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Journey Home

Journey Home

by Lawrence McKay Jr., Dom Lee, Keunhee Lee (Illustrator)

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Mai is excited about traveling to Vietnam with her mother. Mom wants to search for her birth family and Mai wants to help solve the mystery.

Mai has never been to her mother's homeland, and she wonders what being there will reveal. Will learning about her mother's past help her gain a new sense of identity? Is her "real" home in America or Vietnam?

What Mai


Mai is excited about traveling to Vietnam with her mother. Mom wants to search for her birth family and Mai wants to help solve the mystery.

Mai has never been to her mother's homeland, and she wonders what being there will reveal. Will learning about her mother's past help her gain a new sense of identity? Is her "real" home in America or Vietnam?

What Mai discovers about her past will change her life forever. Journey Home is a story for all Americans who, like Mai, want to learn more about themselves through their family histories.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this subdued and affecting story, a woman who was abandoned as an infant at a Saigon orphanage travels from the U.S. back to Vietnam to look for her birth family. Her 10-year-old daughter, Mai, narrates the story as she accompanies her mother. The only clue to the woman's identity is her sole possession at the time of her adoption by an American couple: a delicate, handmade kite. Most of the book follows the woman's involved search and fruitless efforts to discover her roots. But in the book's most childlike moment, Mai wistfully empathizes with her mother, since the girl has never met her own father: "Mom doesn't know where he is, and he's never tried to find me. I don't understand why people can't stay together." Their quest finally leads them to an elderly kite maker who, in an emotional reunion, relates his connection to the woman's parents, killed in a bombing, and how he rescued Mai's motherand the kite, made by her father. But McKay's (Caravan) pacing is problematic: after the long buildup, this climactic moment gets short shrift. The Lees' (Baseball Saved Us) realistic art, by turns brightly lighted and almost oppressively dark, seamlessly matches the changing moods of the text. Throughout, the artists evoke a clear picture of Vietnam's urban and rural landscapes (in one standout scene, the Lees deftly spotlight mother and daughter in a rickshaw in the midst of the chaotic streets of Shanghai). Uneven tempo aside, this text will engage anyone interested in Vietnam or adoption. Ages 6-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Ten-year-old Mai, born and raised in the United States, and her mother Lin travel to Vietnam to search for the birth family Lin was separated from during the war when she was two. This sensitive story offers no easy answers but stresses the strong bond between mother and daughter and the connection they feel to the country as a way of helping both cope with their losses.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Mai and her single mother Lin travel to Vietnam to discover Lin's background. She had been left at an orphanage in Saigon during the Vietnam War with only two puzzle pieces to discover her birth family - a kite and a picture of herself as a two-year-old. As the two search, they see a country healed from war and they miraculously discover Lin's history. Her father, a kite maker, died in the bombing. Lin was found in the rubble under a kite he had made for her. She was then taken to the orphanage for safety. Both Mai and her mother discover new homes: a country of origin, knowledge of ancestry, and knowing you belong. Dom Lee's typical monochromes are varied with vivid pictures of a country whose lushness hides old scars. An interesting way of looking at the past through searching from the present.
Children's Literature - Jeanne K. Pettenati
Mai, a ten-year-old girl, travels to Vietnam with her mother to help search for her mother's birth family. During the Vietnam War, Mom was left in an orphanage in Saigon. She eventually was placed with a loving foster family in the United States. Mom becomes a research scientist and a parent. After her foster mother's death, she decides to search for her birth family. Her only possession from Vietnam is a kite, which turns out to be the central clue to discovering her past. This is a moving story, told from her young daughter's perspective. Mai grows in many ways and discovers more about who she is in the process. The book deals with the weighty topics of war and loss in ways that are meaningful to children.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4Ten-year-old Mai describes the journey she and her mother make to Vietnam to find her mother's birth parents. They search at the People's Hall of Records in Saigon and visit many orphanages; but it is a kite, Lin's only possession when she was adopted by an American couple, that leads them to her identity. Mai herself, whose father left the family before she was born, comes to an understanding of what "home" really means. The story is told in a straightforward, prosaic style with minimal description of present-day Vietnam. The Buddha is briefly mentioned but never identified. The illustrations, covering a full-page or three-quarters of a double-page spread, are scratched out from encaustic beeswax applied to paper and then gone over with oil paints and colored pencil, giving a mottled, textured effect. They are somewhat static. The lush blues and greens of the countryside are attractive; however, a brown, sometimes murky palette is used for the city and indoor illustrations. Oddly, mother and daughter wear the same clothes throughout most of the book. A useful but nonessential purchase, this title might find a niche as America's newer residents come to terms with their heritage. For a factual account of a similar experience with a more in-depth look at Vietnam, try Jeremy Schmidt's photo-essay, Two Lands, One Heart (Walker, 1995).Diane S. Marton, Arlington County Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
This enormously touching book from McKay (Caravan, 1995) tells the story of Mai and her mother's journey to Vietnam in search of the mother's birth family. Mai narrates as her mother, left at an orphanage in Saigon when she was a baby, searches the records and attempts to find a clue to her familyþa thread she can follow to her source. Their search pivots on the design of a kite, similar to the one that was Mai's mother only possession when she came to the US. As their journey continues, Mai finds herself busy with issues of identity and belonging: Her father deserted the family when she was a baby, her mother seems serene about her search; Mai notices that she looks more like the people in this new country than she looks like those back home. Adding to the poignancy of the story is the immediacy of its context, its near history, and its palpable expression of the madness and carnage of war. The Lees' soft artwork is especially expressive in the depiction of faces; in the scene in which Mai's mother meets an old friend of her father's, who bestows upon her her real name and explains the circumstances under which she was left at the orphanage, there won't be a dry eye among readers and listeners. (Picture book. 4-9)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
(w) x (h) x 1.00(d)
710L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 Years

Meet the Author

Dr. Short is a division director at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a teacher, trainer, researcher, and curriculum/materials developer. Her work at CAL has concentrated on the integration of language learning with content-area instruction. Through several national projects, she has conducted research and provided professional development and technical assistance to local and state education agencies across the United States. She directed the ESL Standards and Assessment Project for TESOL and co-developed the SIOP model for sheltered instruction.

Dr. Tinajero specializes in staff development and school-university partnership programs and has consulted with school districts in the U.S. to design ESL, bilingual, literacy, and bi-literacy programs. She has served on state and national advisory committees for standards development, including the English as a New Language Advisory Panel of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and the Texas Reading Academies. She is currently professor of Education and Interim Dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at El Paso and was President of the National Association for Bilingual Education, 1997-2000.

Dr. Schifini assists schools across the nation and around the world in developing comprehensive language and literacy programs for English learners. He has worked as an ESL teacher, reading specialist, school administrator and university professor. Through an arrangement with California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, Dr. Schifini currently serves as program consultant to two large teacher-training efforts in the area of reading for second language speakers of English. His research interests include early literacy and language development and the integration of language and content-area instruction.

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