So I’ve just discovered a new favorite Independent Press: Cinco Puntos Press. They generously sent me a few books that they thought might be of interest to folks reading this blog, and I plan to feature them over the next few days.
What most impressed me about them is the love that they seem to put into each project. They aren’t making best-selling vampire novels here: they’re putting together beautiful books about people in this country and abroad who are going through hard times but manage to find hope. It’s brave to tell these stories, and Oh So Necessary.
The first book I’m going to feature is the picture book Mali Under the Night Sky by Youme Landowne.
Summary: Mali Under the Night Sky is the true story of Laotian-American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Before the war began, Mali lived an idyllic life in a community where she felt safe and was much loved. She loved to sit in front of her house and ask everyone who passed by, “Where are you going?” She herself went everywhere too—climbing on the flowering trees, catching tiny fish in a rice field, looking for pale bamboo shoots in the dark forest. She loved the time she spent with her family, napping in the hot afternoons, making feasts and coming together on special days to celebrate. But the coming war caused her family to flee to another country and a life that was less than ideal. What did she carry with her? She carried her memories. And they in turn carried her across the world, sharing where she is from and all that she loves with the people she meets.
Review: This wonderfully moving picture book gets to the heart of an issue that I haven’t even begun to explore yet here: immigration. I’ve written about abuse, violence, neglect, depression . . . mostly because those are issues that I have first-hand knowledge of. But there are thousands of children living in our country whose families fled from war or poverty. When these children arrive in our country with their families they have had to leave behind every place they have ever known, many loved ones. They are often living far below the poverty line. They or their parents may not know the language, may be discriminated against and bullied in the communities they find themselves in, may be uprooted from their important cultural traditions, may lack access to medical care, adequate school, housing.
How can these children deal with so much upheaval and loss? According to Mali in the Night Sky, they can remember that they carry their home and the love of those they’ve left behind in their hearts. What a simple but profound message!
This book is honest. It shows the beauty of the homeland, the love of the family. And then it shows the physical loss of all of this when they flee Laos. And it ends with the family in jail. Nothing is sugar coated here–which is one of the most necessary aspects, IMO, of a narrative that has the potential to bring solace and healing. And yet, the story ends with hope (another key ingredient) because it reminds us that what is behind us is still a part of us.
And there’s another aspect of the book that brings hope: because it is a true story about an artist, it suggests that one way to thrive through such hardship is by creating art that will help and inspire others who are struggling. I’ve seen the power of art to transform the pain of a child, and I believe this is a powerful message.
Like the wordless book The Arrival by Shaun Tan, I believe Mali in the Night Sky has the power to bring hope and greater self-knowledge to any child who has had to leave her home to make a new home in another country. I just hope that there is a way to get books such as this one into her hands.