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The Whispering Cloth

A Refugee's Story

By Pegi Shea, Anita Riggio

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Format: Paperback, 32 pages
Published In: United States, 01 September 1996
Mai spends her days at the Widows' Store, listening to the Hmong women as they stitch and talk, stitch and talk. They are making pa'ndau---brightly colored story cloths--which they sell to the traders from Chiang Khan. Mai wishes she, too, could make one of the beautiful pa'ndau, but what story could she tell? This moving and poignant tale depicts life in a refugee camp in Thailand. Mai lives there with her grandmother, who helps her as she struggles to perfect her stitchery. Only by going back into her own brief and tragic past can she find a story to tell--one of hope and faith in the midst of war and confinement. Anita Riggio has rendered lush and sensitive watercolors that frame the story. You Yang, a Hmong immigrant, has stitched the pa'ndau that tell Mai's tale.

About the Author

Pegi Deitz Shea visited Ban Vinai, the refugee camp in Thailand where this story is set. She is the author of Bungalow Fungalow and lives in Rockville, Connecticut. Anita Riggio is the author-illustrator of several books, including A Moon in My Teacup and Beware the Brindlebeast, both published by Boyds Mills Press. She lives in Wethersfield, Connecticut.


During a visit to a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, Shea (Bungalow Fungalow) saw women embroidering pa'ndau, narrative tapestries, and noticed a girl who became the model for the heroine of this picture book. Mai, who helps her grandmother create borders on pa'ndau, wants to make her own story cloth. Asking Grandmother for a tale to stitch, she is told, "If you do not have a story of your own, you are not ready to do a pa'ndau." One painful night, Mai decides to stitch the story of her life, which is rendered here in words as well as on a pa'ndau stitched by You Yang, who spent 17 years in Thai refugee camps. Opening with a hard-hitting recollection of her parents' deaths at the hands of soldiers ("Little Mai slept between her mother and father, who were very beautiful even though blood dripped from their heads"), Mai's pa'ndau ends on a wishful note, describing an airplane trip "to a village where homes were as big as mahogany trees." Closeup photos of Yang's textured needlework, as well as Riggio's (A Moon in My Teacup) accomplished watercolor and gouache paintings, add to the poignancy of the tale. Bound to elicit many questions. Ages 3-8. (Jan.)

Gr 2-4‘A small Hmong girl lives with her grandmother in a Thai refugee camp, where she learns to embroider the pa'ndau, the story cloth that is an important source of income for the refugee women. Mai's story begins as her parents are killed by soldiers while they sleep. She is rescued from the battle by her grandmother, who carries her across the Mekong in a basket. The child adds a hopeful end to her work with a stitched scene of herself and Grandmother flying away from the refugee camp to a land where she plays in the snow, swims in the surf, and sleeps with Grandmother in a fine bed. When at last the pa'ndau is finished, the embroidered images of the child's mother and father whisper that the cloth is not for sale. Shea has based her story on the experiences of refugees at Ban Vinai camp in Thailand. She recounts the horror of her young heroine's life in a detached tone, much like a child whose sanity depends on detachment. Riggio's tropical rain watercolor paintings are bordered with the geometric designs of the clothing, while Mai's work is depicted with photos of the embroidery stitched by You Yang. The two mediums blend with success. A tale of restrained anguish, it ends nevertheless on a note of stubborn optimism.‘Ruth Semrau, formerly at Lovejoy School, Allen, TX

EAN: 9781563976230
ISBN: 1563976234
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Dimensions: 24.41 x 24.49 x 0.41 centimetres (0.16 kg)
Age Range: 5-9 years
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