From the Tops of Trees

This incredible picture book is perfect hook for a lesson about memoirs, personal narratives, the refugee experience, understanding the impacts of war, and so much more. The text follows the author as a young Hmong girl living in a refugee camp in Thailand.
It highlights the role of the United States in the displacement of Hmong people after the Vietnam War. During the war, Hmong people were recruited by the US military to fight against communist forces in Laos. When the US withdrew in 1975, the Hmong were left in danger requiring them to flee their homelands. Many ended up in refugee camps and eventually were granted asylum in the United States. The author, Kao Kalia Yang, was one of these Hmong refugees who was born in a camp in Thailand. Through her book, she sheds light on her experiences and the challenges they faced in rebuilding their lives after trauma and displacement. The Author’s Note is absolutely breathtaking and includes a beautiful photograph of her and her father, “From the Tops of the Trees,” in the refugee camp.
Kao Kalia Yang is one of my favorite authors. Everything she writes is pure gold and when you hear her in interviews she is every bit as compassionate, wise and humble as you imagine her to be.

Social Justice Activities:

Relevant Social Justice Standards:

Diversity 9. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect, understanding and connection.

Diversity 10. Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.

Justice 14. Students will recognize that power and privilege influence relationships on interpersonal, intergroup and institutional levels and consider how they have been affected by those dynamics.

Reading Strategies:

 Themes: Analyze what the father means when he says, "When someone falls, you have to pick them up and lift them higher than they were before."

Language: Analyze, "Your hands and your feet will travel far to find peace." Also, what do you think, "Humane Deterrance Policy," means? 

Memoirs: Study what a memoir is and the techniques Yang uses to tell her story and stretch the reader's understanding of what it means to be forced to flee your home.

Book Details:
  • Memoir, All Ages
  • Perspectives: Hmong, refugee
  • Author's stated heritage: Hmong refugee
  • Subject Integration: social studies, geography, memoir writing

Listen to the author talk about this book.

Book covers images are from publishers and in the public domain