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From the Tops of the Trees

About the Book

Young Kalia has never known life beyond the fences of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. The Thai camp holds many thousands of Hmong families who fled in the aftermath of the little-known Secret War in Laos that was waged during America's Vietnam War. For Kalia and her cousins, life isn't always easy, but they still find ways to play, racing with chickens and riding a beloved pet dog.

Just four years old, Kalia is still figuring out her place in the world. When she asks what is beyond the fence, at first her father has no answers for her. But on the following day, he leads her to the tallest tree in the camp and, secure in her father's arms, Kalia sees the spread of the world beyond.

Kao Kalia Yang's sensitive prose and Rachel Wada's evocative illustrations bring to life this tender true story of the love between a father and a daughter.

Why We Recommend It: From the Tops of Trees is an important story for both young readers who are descendants of diaspora from Laos as well as young readers who are interested in learning more about the impact of American involvement in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and '70s. Kao Kalia Yang takes readers on a journey into Ban Vinai Refugee Camp from the perspective of not knowing a world outside of it. This book beautifully demonstrates the experiences of children who live through war, specifically Hmong children and the risks they faced during The American Secret War in Laos, and gives readers a gift of hope by shedding light on the resilience of those who fled, survived, and are sharing their stories today. 

About the Author

Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong American writer. She is a writer of memoir, children’s literature, a
librettist, public speaker and teacher. Her first book, The Latehomecomer: a Hmong Family
Memoir, was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read title and remains the only Asian
American title adapted for the stage by Literature to Life. Her second memoir, The Song Poet: a
Memoir of my Father, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua
Prize, the PEN USA literary awards, and the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize. It was listed as
number 16 in Esquire Magazine’s “50 Best Biographies of All Time”. The Minnesota Opera
commissioned a libretto by Yang for an opera of the same name which had a sold out premier
run in 2023. Her collective refugee memoir, Somewhere in the Unknown World was one of
Kirkus Best Books of the Year. She also co-edited the ground-breaking collection What God is
Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss By and For Native Women and
Women of Color. Her Children’s books, A Map Into the World, The Shared Room, The Most
Beautiful Thing, Yang Warriors, and From the Tops of the Trees, have received multiple starred
reviews and appeared in many end of year lists and as Notable Books by the American Library
Association. Yang received the American Library Association’s Asian/Pacific American Literary
Award for Children’s Literature, and four Minnesota Book Awards among many other awards
for her writing across genres. Yang is a recipient of the Sally Award for Social Impact from the
Ordway Center for Performing Arts and the A.P. Anderson Award for her significant
contributions to the cultural and artistic life of Minnesota. She is a Soros, McKnight, and
Guggenheim fellow.

Kao Kalia Yang
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