Asia is a huge continent of over 4.55 billion people, living in 48 different countries and representing even more cultures, religions, and languages. And yet, when many white Americans hear the word “Asian” or “Asian-American,” they have a very narrow idea of who that represents.
For that reason, we hope to explore specific cultures more deeply through children’s literature, in the hopes that we can begin to recognize individual cultures and their unique experience.
This list explores books that feature Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American main characters. Vietnam has a population of 96 million people, and there are approximately 2.2 million people of Vietnamese descent living in the United States. These books tell their stories, and the stories of their ancestors and their culture. These books detail what is unique about the Vietnamese experiences, but they also show the many things we all share, like a dedication to family, hard-work, and honesty.
15 Picture Books with Vietnamese Characters
Going Home, Coming Home by Truong Tran
Ami Chi is preparing to travel with her family to Vietnam. Her parents keep talking about “going home,” but Ami doesn’t embrace that same feeling. How could somewhere she’s never been be home to her?
Once Ami arrives in Vietnam, she begins to understand. Ami feels a connection to her family and her heritage in a way she never has before. As she experiences the rice paddies, the busy markets, and the people of her parents’ homeland, she feels a familiarity she’s never felt before. In its own way, Vietnam begins to feel like home.
I recommend this gorgeous picture book for kids ages 5 and up.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
Early in the morning, Bao’s father wakes him so they can head to the pond to fish. Other people are fishing for sport, but Bao and his father have to catch fish to provide food for the family. While they fish, Bao’s father tells him about a different pond in their home country of Vietnam, and the difficulties they left behind there.
This book is beautiful and powerful, and I give it my highest recommendation for reading to your school-aged kids.
Journey Home by Lawrence McKay, Jr.
Mai is traveling with her mother to Vietnam. Mai’s mother is adopted, and she’s traveling to Vietnam to look for her birth mother. Together, the two learn more about Vietamese history, language, religion, and culture. As Mai walks alongside her mother on this journey, she realizes something special is beginning to happen. She thought of this trip as a journey to learn about her mother’s family history, but she begins to see this is a journey about her history as well.
This story is really sweet and moving, and I recommend sharing it with kids ages 7 and up.
To Swim in Our Own Pond by Ngoc Dung Tran
This book explores well-known Vietnamese proverbs and the lessons they teach. Readers will also be able to seem comparable Western proverbs and how they relate. I really love this deep dive into the ways wisdom is expressed across different cultures.
I highly recommend reading this book with kids ages 5 and up.
Surprise Moon by Caroline Hatton
Nick can’t wait to share the the Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (Tết Trung Thu) with friends! He introduces them to Vietnamese music, paper lanterns, a parade, and moon cakes. Nick loves getting to share a part of Vietnam, where is father is from, with his friends.
This upbeat book is great for sharing with kids ages 4 and up.
Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha
This book tells the true story of a girl named Dia and her family. Dia and her family are Hmong, and war between Vietnam and Laos caused them to have to flee their home. To preserve their family’s history, Dia’s aunt and uncle made a story cloth that showed their journey across Asia and eventually to the United States.
This book is a lovely celebration of Hmong culture, and how art and needlework can be powerful storytelling tools. I recommend read this book with kids ages 7 and up.
Wishes by Muon Thi Van
This gorgeous book tells the story of a young girl’s journey from Vietnam to the other side of the world, as her family leaves everything behind in the hopes of finding safety and security. We see the young girl and her family packing bags, saying prayers, and departing together. The sparse prose and intricate illustrations convey the heartbreak, longing, and hope that comes with abandoning everything you know as home to find a safer future.
This book is so powerful, and it’s really a great choice for kids ages 4 and up. Younger children may miss some of the meaning and nuance, but they will definitely understand the feeling of home.
Fly Free! by Roseanne Thong
Mai always looks forward to feeding the birds outside the Buddhist temple, but cannot afford the payment that would allow them to fly free. Mai invites her friend Thu to join her in feeding the birds, and their kindness sets off a chain of good deeds throughout the town. Eventually, because of the kindness Mai put into the world, another person pays for the birds’ release, and they are finally able to fly free.
This lovely book about the power of kindness is great for kids ages 5 and up.
In A Village by the Sea by Author
This book follows the story of a Vietnamese fisherman as he’s out on the sea. While he waits through an intense storm, he longs for home and the comforts he has there, including his family. Readers also get a glimpse of the fisherman’s home life, where his wife and baby wait for him expectantly.
I absolutely adore this book and its detailed illustrations. It’s a great reminder of how we all long for home, even though home is a different place for each of us. I recommend reading this book with children ages 5 and up.
My Father’s Boat by Sherry Garland
This book tells the story of a young boy who goes fishing with his father. As they work, he learns about his heritage, and his father’s father, who is back in Vietnam. The boy learns about the civil war that affected the country, and how his father and grandfather had to make different choices: “He could not leave the land he loved, and I could not stay.”
Garland sets the scene beautifully, and you can almost smell the saltwater and sweat on the boy’s brow. I highly recommend this moving book for kids ages 6 and up.
Tet: The New Year by Kim-Lan Tran
Huy Ly and his father are new to the United States, having just immigrated from Vietnam. Mrs. Kim, Huy Ly’s teacher, and her students want to make this new family feel at home, so they work to create a celebration of Tet, the Vietnamese observance of Lunar New Year, to welcome them.
This picture book can be hard to find, but is well worth it. I recommend it for kids ages 6 and up.
The Hermit and The Well by Thich Nhat Hanh
A young boy goes on a school trip to climb a mountain, and as he climbs, the boy hopes to meet the hermit who lives at the top of the mountain. When the boy gets to the top of the mountain, what he finds instead is a beautiful well. Along with the well, he finds the truth about what happiness really means for him.
This lovely picture book is authored by a well-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and I recommend reading it with children ages 4 and up.
Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories by Phuoc Thi Minh Tran
This lovely collection of stories features traditional Vietnamese folk tales that are well loved by children and families in Vietnam. Young readers will see elements of familiar fairy tales in a few of these stories, and others will be entirely new. All of the stories contain moral lessons about kindness, hard work, and honesty — values that transcend cultures.
Author Phuoc Thi Minh Tran is a Vietnamese librarian living in Minnesota, and you can tell that she put her heart and soul into this work. I recommend reading this collection with children ages 5 and up.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê
A little boy goes to visit his Vietnamese grandfather, but he’s discouraged when their language differences keep them from communicating. When the boy sits down to draw a picture, he discovers a way he can bond with his grandfather that doesn’t require words.
This gorgeous book is great for sharing with kids ages 6 and up.
My Footprints by Bao Phi
A young girl named Thuy is struggling with feeling like she fits in. She is teased not only because she is Vietnamese American, but also because she has two moms. A walk home on a winter day gets Thuy thinking about the animals she sees along the way, and the unique characteristics they have. What can Thuy learn from these beautiful animals?
This gorgeous story about love and acceptance is perfect for sharing with kids ages 6 and up.
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