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Dia's Story Cloth


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Gr 3-6‘An interesting and unusual title that resists neat categorization. The main body of the book, a first-person narrative in picture-book format, is illustrated with details from a Hmong story cloth designed and embroidered by the author's aunt and uncle. One double-page spread shows the cloth in its entirety. The rhythmic composition depicts lines of small figures, viewed from above, flowing around trees and buildings, across the landscape of Burma, Laos, and Thailand. Cha's family lived happily as mountain farmers in Laos until the `60s, when the country was divided by war. Her father joined the loyalists and disappeared. Fleeing the fighting, the author's family ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her story ends with their emigration to America. A four-page encyclopedic description of the Hmong people and the importance of textile arts to their culture follows Cha's narrative, along with a bibliography. Part autobiography, part history, part description of a changing culture adapting life and art to new circumstances, the book serves as a brief introduction to the Hmong people. A good supplement would be Blia Xiong's Nine-in-One, Grr! Grr! (Children's Book Pr., 1989), a retelling of a Hmong folktale, with illustrations influenced by the Hmong story cloth, a new kind of folk art created in refugee camps.‘Margaret A. Chang, North Adams State College, MA

A folk art masterpiece from a Southeast Asian culture stands at the center of this thoughtful book. Intricately composed, painstakingly stitched by hand, the "story cloth" of the title was created by the author's aunt and uncle, Hmong who fled their native Laos for a refugee camp in Thailand. The story cloth records their experiences-which are also the author's own. Using details from the cloth as illustrations, Cha retells her life story, a meeting of Hmong history and a classic American immigration tale. Now an anthropologist in Colorado, Cha spent her early years during the 1960s in a Hmong village in Laos, where her family worked long days growing rice and corn. War tore the country apart; Cha's father was killed and she and her mother made a dangerous escape to Thailand, emigrating to the United States in 1979. The text is subdued; it is the needlework that drives home the poignancy of this cataclysmic account. For advanced readers, a lengthy afterword, by Joyce Herold, Denver Museum of Natural History's curator of ethnology, sets out historical background and assesses the story cloth as an art form. Ages 6-up. (Apr.)

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