Modern Jungles: A Hmong Refugee’s Childhood Story of Survival

About the Book

As a five-year-old boy, Pao Lor joined thousands of Hmong who fled for their lives through the jungles of Laos in the aftermath of war. After a difficult and perilous journey that neither of his parents survived, he reached the safety of Thailand, but the young refugee boy’s challenges were only just beginning.


Born in a small farming village, Pao was destined to be a Hmong clan leader, wedding negotiator, or shaman. But the course of his life changed dramatically in the 1970s, when the Hmong faced persecution for their role in helping U.S. forces fighting communism in the region. After more than two years in Thai refugee camps, Pao and his surviving family members boarded the belly of an “iron eagle” bound for the United States, where he pictured a new life of comfort and happiness. Instead, Pao found himself navigating a frightening and unfamiliar world, adjusting to a string of new schools and living situations while struggling to fulfill the hopes his parents had once held for his future. Now in Modern Jungles, Pao Lor shares his inspiring coming-of-age tale about perseverance, grit, and hope.


Why We Recommend It: Pao Lor’s Modern Jungles: A Hmong Refugee’s Childhood Story of Survival is unique because it’s the Secret War told from the perspective of the author as a young boy. Lor describes playing with friends, then witnessing frightening things in the dark that are outside the realm of anything a 5-year-old child should experience. It’s both a transporting portrait of boyhood, where sensory details of the beauty of Laos and Hmong traditions shine through, and a no-holds barred account of starvation, loss, and trauma. The author writes: “Almost 700 people had started the journey from our home in Laos. Only around 50 made it to Thailand.” Modern Jungles is a testament to the lengths Hmong refugees went to save their families and a cautionary tale about who really pays the price in war. It’s also a story of resilience as the author comes of age in America.


Accessible reading level for high school students and above, but with depictions of violence that may trouble younger readers (infant loss, parent loss). The book includes discussion questions at the end that are thought-provoking for the classroom or book club.

About the Author

Pao Lor

Pao Lor

Pao was born in Laos and lived in two refugee camps in Thailand before resettling to Long Beach, California, in 1980. Today he lives in Kimberly, Wisconsin, with his family. He is a Patricia Wood Baer Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and chairs the Professional Program in Education. Prior to joining UW-Green Bay, he was a middle/high school administrator, high school/middle school teacher, university academic advisor, and college and high school soccer head coach. His Ph.D. in educational administration (2001) is from UW-Madison. Pao enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, playing soccer, riding his bikes and motorcycles, relaxing, doing house chores, and taking care of the family's yard and vehicles.