Portrayal of Southeast Asian Refugees in Recent American Children’s Books

Author: Levy, Michael
Little has been published on this subject to date, so this work provides scholars and teachers of children’s literature with useful information on the children’s books that discuss Southeast Asians, including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Lao, Hmong, and Mien. The works fall into three categories with most overlapping to some extent: historical fiction or non-fiction portraying the lives of a specific ethnic group before the advent of the war that is to disrupt the culture; the transition from traditional life to refugee status, usually told from the child’s perspective; life as a refugee in the US (or elsewhere), concentrating on the need to adjust to a strange culture, various forms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and the often bittersweet nostalgia for home.


& short but useful study&. Levys passionate commitment to a literature that would shape a better informed, more tolerant, and culturally enriched American youth is evident&.From the outset, Levy seeks to identify childrens books, ranging from picture books to young adult books, that will be not only accurate but imaginatively powerful&.Repeatedly, Levy must address the dual audience of these childrens books. Is it their function to preserve the cultural legacy of a minority population that might otherwise assimilate and dissipate its communal knowledge, or is it to broaden the cultural repertoire of the non-Asian majority?&. Levy is attentive in his attempts to distinguish one group from another, Hmong from Mien or Vietnamese. At the same time he recognizes the commonalities among ethnic groups whose villages straddled national borders and who suffered in the backwash of war&.Levys study will be welcome for his sensitivity to these complex problems and for his identification of childrens books that offer such eloquent solutions.  Melus, Multi-Ethnic Childrens Literature

. . . thoroughly researched, carefully balanced and objective. It is well organized, fair in its presentations and covers a number of southeast Asian cultures. I know of no other current book of this nature in the field and I would expect it to be a valuable cultural tool, not only in childrens literature but in the social sciences and other fields. . . . His analysis of the existing childrens books shows a most comprehensive knowledge. . . . The chapter on Dealing with Racism is one of the best. In explaining various facets of racism in connection with childrens books Levy presents an impassioned plea for tolerance together with a wonderful analysis of the nature of racism. . . . Levys writing is both smooth and lucid and his book is a pleasure to read. I consider it a quality book and one which should be a landmark in the field.  John T. Dizer

. . . Levys study of ninety-six childrens books about Southeast Asian refugees published between 1963 and 1998 is timely and very welcome. . . . Levys cogent thematic arrangement provides a solid framework for his insights. . . . A sixth chapter deals with the difficult issue of racism, either ideologically or in practical terms. Levys understanding of the history of the area, as well as his knowledge of the real and appalling problems refugees face, inform this discussion, which continues in a thoughtful concluding chapter. . . . admirably fulfills its authors intention to provide a critical introduction to a body of literature that should grow over the coming years. In addition, the book offers the childrens book community a valuable model for addressing issues raised wherever multicultural literature is considered.  Childrens Literature Association Quarterly

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Foreword; Preface by C. W. Sullivan III
1. Interpreting the Past
2. The Way it Might Have Been
3. The Coming of War
4. A New World
5. Memories and the Return Home
6. Dealing with Racism
7. Conclusion
Bibliography and Index