Today we’re excited to share A Map into the World as well as an interview with author Kao Kalia Yang. A Map into the World is the first picture book with a Hmong child as a protagonist and it’s a beautiful and meaningful story about a little girl named Paj Ntaub who moves into a new home. She experiences the seasons and sees how life changes through birth and loss. She explores her neighborhood, collecting treasures in the natural world around her — golden gingko leaves, wriggly earthworms, flowers from the lilac bushes. Through her treasures, she ends up bringing joy to one of her neighbors in a lovely, unexpected way.
Can you tell us the story behind A Map into the World?
A Map Into the World is inspired by real life events and actual people. Bob is real. So was Ruth. In 2015, my husband and I moved into a green house with big windows. We moved into the house with our young daughter and my belly "round as a melon" with my twin sons. We saw, from the very first day we visited the house, an old man and woman sitting on a bench they've refashioned from the back of a car, looking at us from their driveway. On that very first day, we started the waving game. That fall, I delivered my boys. That winter, Ruth died. All the while, my daughter asked questions, saw what was going on in her world, grew in her understanding of the seasons, and her wanting to engage and help with the life we were in. All the while, I kept thinking: she's still too young. That spring, we took the boys out on a warm day. Bob opened his garage and pushed out the special bench. He sat down. We waved. He waved back, then covered his hands with his eyes and wept. Over the course of that spring and summer, Bob sat on that bench--more often than not: weeping. I'd go and talk to him. One day, the kids, my daughter and my sister's wanted to go and ask Bob if they could draw on his driveway. Bob said yes and as we talked, they drew. When they were done, they came to us. Bob went over and asked what they'd drawn for him. They all said, "A Map Into the World--just in case you need it." It was a map of everything they loved, one with a huge line, the biggest one of all leading to the toward the street, with a big world smiling, waiting for Bob. Bob and I were both astonished. I said, "Bob, this has to be a children's book." He laughed and cried saying, "You'd be making a weed into a flower." This is where the book began.
What does the story mean for you personally?
This is my first children's book. In this way, I know it is the beginning of something big, something new, something very exciting. I am so happy and proud that my children's book career starts with A Map Into the World. I was a child that loved to read. I have been an adult that has read widely from the children's shelves. This is my way of giving back to those shelves that I've taken so much from, to the little girl me who had dreamt of a book about the people who loved her, who had yearned to see a book for children about a Hmong family living life in America. This is my way of telling Bob that although Ruth is gone, the legacy of their love lives on, and my way of telling my children, all children, that the beauty they've collected in their worlds will one day be a place for others to rest, to see, to be in this world. It is a reminder that inside each of us, we hold a map for others--no matter how old or young we are, no matter where we come from, or where we are going.
What are your hopes for the story and the children who read it?
I want this book in the hands of children from across this country. I want these children to see: there is a group of people here in America call the Hmong, and they live in stories, too. I want them to understand that the human story is always bigger than its particular circumstances, that no one's humanity is governed by their size, their age, their cultures, their possibilities. I want each child that picks up this book to understand: they are a collection of so much that is beautiful and that we live in a world and a life full of changing seasons.
Thank you, Kalia, for joining us and we look forward to reading many more of your books in the future!