The Illiterate Daughter: The Young Guardian, Book One

by Chia Gounza Vang

Teen Historical Fiction, independently published

December, 2021

From Amazon blurb:

“In war torn Laos, thirteen-year-old Nou daydreams of the legendary heroes and mythical beings who live in the folklore stories she loves to hear. Remembering them helps her ignore physical pain as she struggles through the endless chores expected of a dutiful daughter. Each night, she examines the two books given to her by her ex-soldier father and prays for an end to the Vietnam War.”

Although I read many self-published books, I rarely review them. This, though, demands that effort from me.  In the most respectful way possible,  I hope to demand that readers spend time meeting Nou and her family, learning about a time in history that is too little understood, or is neglected, distorted, or actively ignored.

It is easy to miss the “BOOK ONE” in the title that indicates this is the first book in a series that will follow Nou through her changing life, in geography, circumstances, relationships, and self-awareness. even if a stand-alone title, the scenes and intensity of character, culture, crisis, and concern are page-turning and absorbing, yet they reveal and inform with details and revelations about the daily life of people trapped and betrayed by political forces on all sides. The fact that we can expect to meet her again in future books is a bonus.

Nou’s role as a middle child, as a girl, also trap her in a culture that denies her what she wants most- to learn to read. The patterns of duties, discipline, and sometimes desperation will elicit emotional reactions, but readers should avoid judgments. This is fully developed view of a culture different from ones most commonly portrayed in familiar novels, but that is a welcome revelation to expand and inform young minds.

Nou’s series has the tag YOUNG GUARDIAN for many valid reasons. Each event, each challenge in her journey of personal growth and family roles strengthens her capacity to move beyond the deeply traditional cultural expectations into which she was born. Her intense drive to learn to read comes from her storytelling talent, but she discovers that reading can be a survival skill, too.

This is a sensitively-constructed  story that was inspired by various true experiences, written with rich details. I imagine that it will ring true to those many who lived in those times and places, but will also make young readers feel immersed in that very real world. Hmong Americans have far too few books that reflect or reveal their history, and those of us who are NOT Hmong also suffer from that lack. It is also America’s national history, and one we should all learn. In this novel we can expand our understanding while meeting a character who rises from the page and stands fully formed in our lives. Nou is a character reader will want to meet again.

Some News, and Catching Up!

As we reach the second half of the short month of February, I’m belatedly poking my head above ground to apologize for my absence in recent months. Some intense personal demands occupied my full attention since early Fall. I’m overdue on newsletters, blog posts, and reviews. The good news is that there has been some good news during that period which I’ll begin sharing, I have read some outstanding books to review, I have been writing, and my life is coming back under control with prospects for continued improvement in the coming year. Thanks for your patience in waiting for things to reach this stage!


Some sunlight for this stormy story!

The first and most important news to share is that KIRKUS REVIEWS has published a full review of my nearly-abandoned picture book, released in July, 2021. IS IT OVER? is a story of my heart, and one I had hoped would reach many readers. My personal issues, the limits of a pandemic, and other factors meant fewer events, outreach efforts, and school visits. I did share copies of this book with quite a few FISHER HOUSE sites and received some touching letters in response. 

By the way, if you know of a Fisher House or other veterans group who might appreciate having a copy to share with their members, please respond below. I welcome a chance to share this book with  those for whom it might be especially meaningful.

The review offered a comprehensive story summary (using more words than the word count of my sparse text!) but especially focused on glowing praise for the illustrations by Rebecca S. Hirsch. I’ve said from my first glimpse of Becki’s art that this could nearly be a wordless book, with her evocative and appealing narrative art knocking this story out of the park and into hearts of readers. Please read the full review below to appreciate the specific examples noted by this reviewer.

“A young girl dislikes a loud storm but uses her imagination to calm herself and her military veteran father in Brehl’s illustrated children’s book.

Risa is playing at the beach when a thunderstorm approaches. She runs to her house and says, “A STORM Daddy! Make it stop!” He tells her that he wishes that he could and that it will be over soon. He reassures her that she’s safe and encourages her to play in her room. As the wind howls and the waves pound, Risa tells her stuffed elephant, Ivan, not to be scared. When there are loud thunderclaps, she runs to Daddy again. Risa feels his heart racing, and he says that when he was young, he loved storms, and “skies were stages for my imagination.” (Hirsch’s upbeat illustrations show clouds playing instruments and riding on a ship and a whale.) But Daddy says his stories won’t help Risa, because they changed when he was a soldier; this is demonstrated by images of menacing animals. When the youngster looks at the skies, she sees golden elephants, including a baby one that looks like Ivan, led by a daddy elephant; Risa declares that the elephant family is safe, and the daddy elephant is shown fending off dangerous creatures. Daddy claims he also sees the golden elephants, and now his heartbeat is steady. Over the course of this book, Brehl presents a story that may help readers whose experiences mirror the characters’—particularly those in military families with members who struggle with PTSD. In the illustrations, Ivan, the stuffed elephant, is delightfully drawn with a heart on his body; his eyes widen with surprise at a loud crash, as if he’s a living creature. Interestingly, Risa’s father is depicted in Hirsch’s work as having a prosthetic leg, which is never directly addressed in the text—an effective narrative choice. Lavender shading is intriguingly used to indicate fear.

An often engaging work that may help to allay fears of readers young and old.”


As my life begins to resume a more predictable pattern, I hope to soon share some book reviews, distribute a spring newsletter to update changes in the past year, and reach out to loyal readers here on a more regular basis. Notice that I said “HOPE”, not “PLAN”. This year has certainly increased my awareness that plans can change and adapting to realities as they unfold is the best possible survival skill one can have. But HOPE? No one will ever make me give up that practice!

Along with that is my deep gratitude, for this lovely review, for the powerful support of a talent illustrator I’m proud to call my friend, and to readers like you who continue to show interest in my goings on!

Back to you soon!



Review: The Miners’ Lament: A Story of Latina Activists in the Empire Zinc Mine Strike


A Story of Latina Activists in the Empire Zinc Mine Strike”

by Judy Dodge Cummings

Illustrations by Eric Freeberg

Jolly Fish Press, 9781631635359
Publication Date: September 1, 2021

148 pages, Middle Grade Novel


Description from Indiebound:

“It’s 1951, and workers at the Empire Zinc mine in Alba, New Mexico, have been striking for months. Among them is Ana Maria Garcia’s father, who says they may need to sell her vihuela to pay rent. But her vihuela was a gift from her recently deceased mother, and her dream is to be a corridista, a singer of Mexican ballads. As Ana Maria is drawn to the picket line, she is inspired to write a corrido about her mother and the other women of the mining community. An upcoming talent show may be Ana Maria’s chance to earn money for rent and save her vihuela–if she can give voice to the song of her heart. It’s the storytellers that preserve a nation’s history. But what happens when some stories are silenced? The I Am America series features fictional stories based on important historical events about people whose voices have been excluded, lost, or forgotten over time.”

I was eager to read this recent release because I am a fan of author/historian Judy Dodge Cummings. Her research, reflections, and writing are reliably thorough and engaging. In this case I was particularly intrigued because of the emphasis in this series on exploring and sharing lesser-known stories from American history, stories lost, in large part, due to systemic underreporting and ignoring heroic, historic events from any non-dominant culture in America. 

In the details of this case from the early 1950s, the injustice is particularly egregious because the mining corporation employed both Anglo and Mexican-American workers. Their segregated housing locations and conditions meant that Anglo and Latin men might be working in identical conditions, side-by-side, but were paid unequally.  Mexican-American workers were only rented land to build their homes on “the other side of the tracks”. It was that side of town, on land owned and controlled by the same mining  company, that  indoor plumbing or gas lines for cooking were not provided, as they were in Anglo housing.

Those and other conditions, including the size and amenities of the homes in direct proportion to  pay inequities, meant that Ana Maria Garcia and her father lived in hardship, especially after Ana Maria’s mother died. That tragedy, too, was related to the poverty in which they lived. Surrounded by Papa’s angry grief, financial stress, and expectations for his daughter to take over Mama’s household duties magnified Ana Maria’s frustration and sadness. All this is made worse when Papa scoffs at her love of making music and her dreams of becoming an accomplished corridista (balladeer and player of traditional stringed instrument).

I loved much about this story, including the many ways in which a culture unknown to me was made to feel familiar and respected. Cummings provided skillful revelations along the way, gradually allowing Ana Maria to better understand her papa’s struggle with loss, to regain her song-writing and storytelling voice, and to recognize the strength of women and girls in her community, despite culturally assigned restrictions and expectations. even secondary character were written with depth and allowed growth long th course of the story.

I was fully engaged with the many aspects of character development, political forces, and threats to physical, emotional, and social safety that unfolded through Ana Maria’s point of view. The tension never eases, although there are pauses as she incorporated events from the strike to extend the story and lyrics in her ballad. This provided readers a brief reprieve in which to deepen their connections and prepare for ongoing assaults on all aspects of life to Ana maria’s community at home and on the picket line.

The resolution was satisfying without being predictable, including the epilogue in which the characters are woven into the true story of a documentary film about the strike. Back matter allows readers to access websites and outer sources to learn more about events, culture, music, and language.

This slim and accessible middle grade novel will be welcomed by readers with Latinx heritage but also by Anglo and other readers. All will be drawn to the relationships, power struggles, and intense inner emotions of moving through loss and loneliness to acceptance and identity. As a coming of age story this is a  welcome addition to home, classroom, and library shelves. It’s a book that should be widely shared.

HEROES of WWII: Fifty Inspiring Stories of Bravery

Rockridge Press, 2021



50 Inspiring Stories of Bravery

by Kelly Milner Halls

ISBN: 978148763786

Paperback, August 10, 2021

Rockridge Press


Earlier this year I read and reviewed two related titles from this series, both by Kelly Milner Halls. Click the titles VOICES OF ORDINARY HEROES and VOICES OF YOUNG HEROES to read my praise of both additions to  the HISTORY SPEAKS series.

Now some of those same historic and heroic characters have been joined by entirely new names in this grouping of a full-color, oversized paperback collection that has similar structural assets and compelling narration in readily consumable passages.

The table of contents makes this a helpful research tool, and the consistent pattern of each featured hero’s section is an open invitation to readers to turn the page and read just one more. And then one more.

Four-page layouts begin with a color, comic book-style portrait illustration, followed by two pages of text, with wide spacing, wide-borders, and easy-to-read font. The fourth page of the layout displays a showcase quotation in the hero’s own words, followed by a short “Explore More” recommendation of an original source, a link to related museums or websites, or other novel or nonfiction titles portraying similar heroes. This bite-sized and easy-on-the-eyes approach makes substantial content both appealing and digestible for the young reader target audience, but also makes this an ideal offering for older readers with interest in WWII who will appreciate the reader-friendly and well-researched format of this collection of profiles.

What I particularly appreciated, among many things, is the diversity of individuals featured, ranging in ethnicity, nationality, geographic arena of action, age, and range of “heroism” portrayed. In some cases, those heroic choices were known to very few, or even remained hidden from public knowledge for decades, like Mariya Borisovna Bruskina. Others, like Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel, have been the subjects of books, documentaries, and movies. Even so, their larger-than-life stature on the stage of WWII resistance and heroism can overshadow the intimate look at their lives that these summary profiles provide.

Some may surprise you with their inclusion, like Mae Krier, a “Rosie” working on the homefront, or Wojtek, the bear, who was fostered, adopted, and then “enlisted” in an Italian military group to bolster the spirits of young men facing likely death or disaster. In every case, Halls makes a clear case for the ways in which heroism can be found in each of them. Without didactic suggestion, their lives and choices remind readers that the potential for heroism lies  in each of us.

The selected quotations would make a wonderful weekly calendar turn, with nearly enough for a full year: For example:


Those words to live by are the selected quotation by Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. Not sure who that is? Get the book and find out! While you’re at it, suggest it to your library and recommend it to teachers you know. Then add it to your shopping list for gifting to middle-grade readers, and maybe even some older folks you know to have an interest in World War II.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher with no promise of a review.

Blogs Welcome IS IT OVER?

On July 6, launch day, our picture book was welcomed to the world, virtually. with a book-birthday-blast on  the blog of prolific and generous author, Vivian Kirkfield. She graciously featured IS IT OVER? with a brief note from me, then added simple introductions to illustrator Rebecca S. Hirsch and me, and is hosting a randomized giveaway of a signed copy of our book AND a stuffed Ivan the elephant!

Vivian not only writes remarkable and award-winning picture books (fiction and nonfiction), she mentors other writers, sponsors contests, and delights audiences, young and old. Check out all of her books here, including FROM HERE TO THERE, MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD, SWEET DREAMS SARAH, and others. More are on the way, too, making Vivian Kirkfield a force of writing wonder who is worth knowing about and following if you love picture books.

Then Dianne White asked terrific questions in an interview on her blog, Readerkidz, HERE. Dianne is the author of award-winning picture books that are among my favorites, including: Green on Green, Blue on Blue, Who Eats Orange, Goodbye Brings Hell0, and Winter Lullaby.
You can check out her books page by clicking on the titles above, and read my interview with her by clicking HERE. While you’re there, subscribe to her blog to stay up to date on her picture book recommendations.

Next, writer, coach, and inspiration, Rochelle Melander, invited me to share ideas about ways teachers, librarians, and family might use IS IT OVER? to extend learning and engagement with the text. If that sounds interesting to you, I nope you’ll check out my interview, HERE, This post was lots of fun and includes a link to the teacher resources page on this website. Rochelle has a new book coming out in  two weeks. I had the privilege of an advanced read, hosting the cover reveal, and interviewing Rochelle HERE. Encourage teachers you know to check out Rochelle’s suggestion blog as a quick and quality way to find out about recent releases and get quick tips from the authors for ways to encourage kids to interact and expand thinking.

Then, in the midst of a Midwest thunderstorm, blogger Patricia Tilton offered a lovely review on her blog, CHILDREN’S BOOKS HEAL.

I was particularly pleased because I’ve followed her blog for years, always finding wonderful titles with emotional resonance. To have my own picture book among her posts means that it may find its way into the hands of kids and families for whom it will play a heartwarming and healing role. I was especially pleased that she commented on the expansive and emotional power of the illustrations by Rebecca S. Hirsch, and added this in her comments:

“The entire book is gorgeous and will be a winner with families.”

For the first two weeks in the wide world, these are such heartwarming and encouraging welcomes. Thank you to the blog hosts, to you who are reading this, and to whatever is happening in my life that invites such support. It is a grace and goodness I deeply appreciate.