Sunday, December 2, 2012

What do you tell a toddler about genocide?

A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O'Brien is a calm yet heart-wrenching story about a young Cambodian-American girl learning what her grandmother lost during the Khmer Rouge and watching her cope with the pain of losing what little connection she still had to her homeland.

Yet while the story flirts with sorrow and should bring a tear (or more) to the reader's eye, it does avoid any in-depth portrayal of the horrors that racked Cambodia during the 1970s. How can one tell a child about unbridled civil war and genocide and starvation? How can one tell a child what it means to never see a beloved brother again?

The illustrations are nebulous and warm, comforting almost, as the grandmother tells of her childhood and then the escape from her war-torn homeland.

The are a few minor caveats. The gender of the children's names seems confused. (Dara is traditionally a boy's name.) And the story is only in English and doesn't include Khmer. But the details are spot-on, down to the parents picking up Thai takeout when they don't want to cook.

Overall, this is an excellent storybook for parents who want to gently remind children that many people suffer from wounds that are not visible. Or perhaps to try to explain why their elders will forever be caught between two worlds.

In short, buy it.

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