“My grandmother is so old, no one knows how old she is.”
So begins a non-fiction picture book that delves into the way of life of the author’s Hmong refugee family. On one level, it is the story of Grandma, who grew up in an unspecified country (assumed Laos) in Asia. She was a young orphan who had to look after her little brothers and sisters.
At another level it is about her grandchildren, who are Hmong Americans growing up with financial hardship. Many Hmong people were US sympathisers in the Vietnam War and were offered asylum in the United States.
Grandmother and grandchildren’s stories intersect in the scarcity of food, and the tenderness of their relationship. “The luckiest of the grandchildren got to help take care of Grandma.”
And this is no lip service care. The narrator proudly announces that she “got to clip [Grandma’s] fingernails and toenails”. She also got to trace the deep stained cracks of her feet and listen to the stories of daring that caused them.
The family have enough meat once a year, at Hmong New Year. The narrator has to settle for ice cubes instead of the ice-cream van. But she always shares with her grandmother and receives a toothless smile in return.
When the young girl wants braces for her crooked teeth and the family can’t afford them, her grandmother helps her to see where beauty truly lies.
This is a gorgeously illustrated and intimate view into a refugee family’s life. Some will find it familiar; many will it find eye-opening.
A Novel Prescription for: Grandparents Day | Harmony Day | Refugee Week
THEMES: Asian diaspora, refugees, poverty, beauty, respect, family, Hmong
Written by Kao Kalia Yang
Illustrated by Khoa Le
Carolrhoda Books 2020, 32 pp, ISBN 9781541561915
Publication date: 6 October 2020
E-ARC provided by NetGalley in return for an honest review.