Title: Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became and American Boy
Author: Andrea Warren
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Age Level: 5th-9th Grade
In the terrifying days at the end of the Vietnam war, a young boy named Long was airlifted out of Saigon and taken to the United States in what became known as Operation Babylift. Hundreds of war orphans were brought to the United States and adopted by loving families. Long became Matt Steiner, and went on to become a valedictorian, athlete, and doctor with a family of his own. While this tale has a happy ending, one might not have predicted it based on his harrowing early years. Long barely remembers his American father, but he vividly remembers his mother's suicide. His devoted grandmother tried as best she could to take care of him, but when she became unable to support him any longer he was sent to live in an orphanage operated by Holt International Children's Services. This agency housed him, provided schooling, and later made it possible for him to be adopted in the United States. Finally returning to Vietnam in 1995, Long was amde to understand the sacrifices that his grandmother had made for him.
Warren has reason to be interested in this story of survival and triumph-her own daughter was also a child rescued in Operation Babylift. And a very personal story it is. Warren uses Long's memories, along with interviews and research regarding other adopted Vietnamese children, to craft a story that is powerful and engaging. This is a story of a child at war, a child struggling to find his identity in his new land, a child who mourns the loss of his family while going on to become a success in his new home. This story also details the challenges that Long had coming to terms with his mixed heritage, a theme that could speak to many biracial children in our school, who often don't see themselves represented in mainstream media. The action is written in a gripping, engaging style that leaves the reader feeling as though they too have witnessed tragedy and incredible acts of heroism. The passages detailing the airlift are especially gripping, and should grab the attention of even the most reluctant of readers.
This book would make an excellent text to use in any study of immigration. It is also a good book for teaching about the diversity of the American experience, as Long's journey is very different from most children in America. Below I've listed some websites where you can find more ideas and specific lesson plans.
Louisiana Reader's Choice Awards
Immigration and Diversity Lesson Plans