A Path of Stars
By Anne Sibley O’Brien (Maine author/illustrator)
A refugee from Cambodia, Dara’s beloved grandmother, Lok Yeay, is grief-stricken when she learns her brother–left behind in Cambodia–has died, and it is up to Dara to bring Lok Yeay back to a place of happiness.
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Publisher: Charlesbridge / Maine Humanities Council (Maine)
Info: ISBN 9781570917356, Hardcover, $15.95
Setting: Greater Portland, ME
Featured Community: Cambodian American
Discuss and Engage with the A Path of Stars Reader’s Guide.
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Reviews & Accolades
2013 Asian Pacific American Librarian Association Honor Picture Book
2013 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
“…O’Brien’s detailed, affecting text skims over the trauma of…wartime experience, but young readers will understand the gravity of it just the same. Golden-toned illustrations featuring soft brushstrokes, expressive faces, and warm scenes of Dara’s Cambodian American family buoy the story’s sadder moments…A loving, intergenerational story about loss and perseverance that feels honest, empowering, and–best of all–hopeful.” –Booklist
“Commissioned by the Maine Humanities Council, O’Brien pens a tale about a Cambodian-American family, beginning with vibrant scenes of food and celebration, as young narrator Dara shares her grandmother’s reminiscences about life in her Asian homeland…Fuzzy-edged oil illustrations add a comfortable, familial feel that softens the story’s sadder elements. However, plenty of bright images are interspersed, and the narrative ends on a hopeful note. Many themes are woven into this book, but the value of family stands above the rest.“
“Oil paintings with oil-crayon accents show the woman’s memories floating in clouds over images of Dara’s family and their home in Maine. The swirling lines and relatively dark palette of blacks and orange are suggestive of her longing…this moving depiction of the special relationship between a grandmother and a grandchild has broad appeal. The Cambodian particulars are intriguing, but the satisfaction that a child can also help a grieving adult is what readers will take away from this sympathetic story.” –Kirkus Review
“‘Multicultural’ is a label often placed on children’s books that are either folktales from another country or school stories where the kids aren’t all from the same ethnic group. It’s rare to find a gem like this picture book, which is not only truly multicultural (depicting one family whose experience spans two countries) but also intergenerational. Dara’s family has left Cambodia behind for a new life in America, but Lok Yeay, her grandmother, tells stories that help the family remember the old ways. Soft, colorful illustrations depict the family in their daily life, cooking dinner, celebrating Cambodian New Year with friends, while Lok Yeay’s stories surround them. Not all of her memories are happy ones – but when grandmother is sad, it’s Dara’s turn to tell some stories to her. It’s a warm, nurturing story of one family’s experience – but it will ring true with readers who are immigrants from other countries.” –Bobbie Combs, Montgomery News
When approached by the Maine Humanities Council for the New Mainers Book Project, Anne Sibley O’Brien remembers writing in her journal, “Who am I to undertake this, to presume the ability to know, to understand, to represent?” While O’Brien’s background of growing up in Korea gave her a connection to Asia, she “knew that my own experiences and perspective weren’t sufficient to tell an authentic Cambodian-American story.” Instead she hoped that by immersing herself and being on the receiving end of the Cambodian American experience, a story would come through her.
O’Brien read many books of Cambodian survival stories, including First They Killed My Father, A Blessing Over Ashes, Children of the Cambodian Killing Fields, and Bamboo and Butterflies. Much of her research also came from her friends, Veasna and Peng Kem, who related their personal stories and experiences in Cambodia and their escape during the war. She gathered research about the effects of trauma with a specialist in torture and genocide and learned how it was often the third generation who “begins to dig” and tries to revive the memories suppressed by the the first generation. With this information, O’Brien began to find the bone structure of A Path of Stars.
For the illustrations, Anne studied reference photos, most notably Kari René Hall’s photo essay, Beyond the Killing Fields, for Cambodian faces. She also watched Cambodian dance and listened to Cambodian music. She noticed that gold was a reoccurring color in Cambodian culture; from the dance costumes to the statues to Cambodia’s environment, which led to her decision to do gold underpainting. She also noticed rounded qualities and an undulating line in Cambodian culture such as in the written language, Khmer, art and the dance moves and tried to incorporate this aspect in her illustrations.
Suggested Supplemental Reading
From I Remember Warm Rain:
“The Dogs” by Hamid Karimian
“The Faithful Doves of My Father: An Unforgettable Story” by Aqila Sharafyar
From New Mainers:
Makara Meng, Cambodia
Suwanna Sanguantonkallaya, Thailand
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