Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home

Overview

Mali Under the Night Sky, a 2011 Skipping Stones honor book, 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. 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 ...

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Overview

Mali Under the Night Sky, a 2011 Skipping Stones honor book, 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. 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.

Terry Hong of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program’s BOOK DRAGON, giving context to Youme’s remarkable book, said, “Today, December 7, marks the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, ‘a date which will live in infamy,’… Seven decades later, infamy lives on, stealing childhoods, families, homes, lives. Now as another year comes to a close, we pray for peace … again and again … again and again … [Mali Under the Night Sky] is another hopeful, urgent prayer.” And the Midwest Book Review calls it “a soul-stirring picturebook about the difficulties faced by wartime refugees, and deserves the highest recommendation.”

Youme Landowne is an energetic and joyful painter, book artist, and activist who thrives in the context of public art. Youme has lived in and learned from the United States, Kenya, Japan, Laos, Haiti, and Cuba. In all of these places, she has worked with communities and individuals to make art that honors personal and cultural wisdom, creating community murals, illustrating tiny books, and teaching poetry in schools.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A Laotian girl's life takes a cruel turn in this haunting yet hopeful tale based on the childhood of Laotian-American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao. Sunny watercolors with patterned borders illuminate the simple joys of Mali's early life, when the world was "full of wonderful things." She climbs trees, helps prepare feasts, and participates in the tradition of tying strings around the wrists of family and friends, "a way of showing that their hearts would always be together." The palette darkens as change--described only vaguely--comes to Laos ("Fighting in neighboring countries was bringing danger to the land and the people"). Young readers may not understand why Mali's family is arrested "for not having a home" and placed in a crowded jail with other refugees after they flee to a neighboring country (afterwords from Kouanchao and a Laotian writer/filmmaker provide more context). There, the strings circling her wrist inspire Mali to share memories of her homeland to lift the spirits of fellow prisoners. Landowne (Sélavi: A Haitian Story of Hope) smoothly includes several Laotian words and phrases in this deeply felt and gently told story. Ages 5–10. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

"Landowne smoothly includes several Laotian words and phrases in this deeply felt and gently told story." —Publishers Weekly

"Today, December 7, marks the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy,” as forever coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seven decades later, infamy lives on, stealing childhoods, families, homes, lives. Now as another year comes to a close, we pray for peace … again and again … again and again … [Mali Under the Night Sky] is another hopeful, urgent prayer …" —Book Dragon

"As heartrending as the story is, it also offers a glimmer of hope in the love people have for their homeland and each other. Mali Under the Night Sky is a soul-stirring picturebook about the difficulties faced by wartime refugees, and deserves the highest recommendation. " —Midwest Book Review, featured as Reviewer's Choice

"With a spare first-person narrative and affecting watercolor-wash illustrations, this biography by the author of Sélavi, That Is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope (2004) tells of a family’s escape from civil war in Laos." —Booklist

"Mali’s life as a young girl in Laos was surrounded by love, tight family bonds and rich cultural experiences, but was also filled with the hardship and trials of growing up in country torn by civil war." —El Paso Scene

"Youme beautifully renders the true story of Malichansouk Kouanchao, who, the flyleaf tells us, 'walked from Laos to Thailand when she was five years old.' " —Papertigers.org

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Young Mali's life in Laos is a busy, happy one until danger approaches from the fighting in the countries nearby. Her family decides that they must leave. They tie strings around each other's wrists, as they have done on other special occasions, to show that their hearts will always be together. That night they manage to cross the Mekong River safely. But on the other side, they are arrested for being homeless. In the crowded jail, inspired by the strings on her wrists, Mali cheers the others with her happy memories. The double-page illustrations of the simple text are like watercolor-washed snapshots set in elaborately patterned borders. They convey the emotional content of the story based on the real experiences of Malichansouk Kuoanchao, about whom biographical information is included. Words written in Laotian are scattered through the illustrations. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—This story of a life disrupted by war is told in a simple, straightforward manner, from a child's point of view. Mali loves her country: the markets, rice fields, bamboo forests, and the tradition of tying strings around the wrists of loved ones to show that their hearts are together. This element ties together the two halves of the book: the tradition is introduced in the happy setting of weddings and family gatherings, but then Mali receives strings before her family is put in jail, and they become an important symbol "that tied her to her beautiful home." While in prison, the child raises the spirits of her fellow captives with memories of home. Politics are not addressed, and there is no good/evil dichotomy. The focus remains tightly on Mali's experiences and feelings, keeping it accessible to young readers. An endnote introduces the real Mali, Malichansouk Kouanchao, an artist upon whose experiences the book is based, and an additional endnote by another Laotian artist provides historical context. Laotian vocabulary is incorporated in a natural way, and the illustrations include Laotian script. The watercolor illustrations, while naive in style, convey a real sense of place. Intricate borders surround every spread, and the bright/dark color schemes reflect the emotions of each scene. The book will be best appreciated by children when read with an adult to help them process the troubling elements of Mali's life. While not a fun story, it is an important well-told one.—Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
Kirkus Reviews

Malichansouk Kouanchao is a Laotian-American artist, but once upon a time she was a child living through difficult times. Her life seemed idyllic, portrayed in spring-hued watercolors surrounded by intricately designed borders. The simple text describes the little girl playing in rice paddies, cooking spicy food and attending weddings, where the custom was to tie ceremonial strings around relatives' wrists to seal familial love. Then the story and the paintings grow darker. The Lao people endured civil war and American bombings, and many faced political persecution, though the text does not explicitly say why or when Mali's family fled. Lao words are sprinkled throughout the text, almost as a poetic refrain, and these words in Lao script appear in dialogue bubbles in the corresponding double-page spreads. In a unique touch, the Lao numbers appear on each page. This biographical account is presented as a story rather than as a piece of nonfiction, and as such, it's not quite as compelling as it might have been with more specific details. A note from Mali and an essay by Thavisouk Phrasavath at the end help provide some context. (Picture book. 4-7)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933693682
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
  • Publication date: 10/19/2010
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 1,487,822
  • Age range: 5 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: AD700L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Mali Under the Night Sky is Youme's third book. Her first book--Selavi, A Haitian Story of Hope--won the Jane Adams Peace Award in 2005. The American Library Association chose her next book--a graphic novel called Pitch Black--as a Top Ten Graphic Novel for Teens in 2009.
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