Many immigrants come to the United States to find their opportunities and escape hostility. The two books, Last Flight and Finding Papa, are both about refugees and the trauma they faced when their home countries become places of war.

Last Flight presents the experiences of refugees from Vietnam who were fortunate to board the last commercial airplane from Saigon before the South Vietnamese government surrendered to the Communist North Vietnam government in 1975.

In Finding Papa, the author’s note explains that a decade after the fall of Saigon, the mother and her child left Vietnam out of fear for their lives. The story explains that they, along with others, were drifting in a boat lost at sea until a Dutch shipping vessel picked them up and took them to a refugee camp in Singapore.

Last Flight by Kristen Mai Giang, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (2023)

The story is about how some Vietnamese staff who worked for Pan Am airlines in Vietnam and Cambodia were able to board the last commercial airplane when Pan Am requested an emergency rescue flight to get people to freedom six days before the Communists took over Saigon and the country.

It was important to include a discussion of the war and to highlight President Gerald Ford’s participation in the exodus. Students need to know that when there is war, local people are often stuck in their country and may want to leave because they helped U.S. companies and government in opposition to the new regime. In this book, many Southeast Asians were at risk of being hurt.

Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations add much feeling to the story. For example, on the cover drawing there is a picture of a young sister, Mai, who looks up to her older, but still young sister, Linh; she is scared and trying to be brave. You can see uncertain emotions on the faces of the family members. They do not know what will happen to them and where they will end up.

Kristen Mai Giang is an excellent writer, she explains how scared everyone was on that flight. She writes, “The plane raced for our lives down that runway. My heart braced along with it. Then we were up. Still. Silent. Suspended. It was a miracle.”

This is a true story about how sometimes people must leave their home countries to escape violence in search of freedom.

The author remembers bits and pieces of how the family fled to the United States on this flight. As an adult, she also interviewed family members and airline crew representatives to learn about the trip. One of Pan Am’s administrators, Allan Topping, made this last flight possible to save his Asian staff members and their families. He was the director of Pan Am Airlines in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Finding Papa by Angela Pham Krans, illustrated by Thi Bui (2023)

Finding Papa centers on the journey of a mother and her daughter searching for the father who left Vietnam to establish a life in the United States for the family. His wife and daughter want to join him so they take the difficult journey through dark waters and scary jungles to board an unstable boat. They escape Vietnam with others and riding a rickety craft seeking freedom. Unfortunately, the boat drifts aimlessly out to sea until a Dutch vessel finds them and rescues the people from certain death.

The ship takes the refugees to a camp in Singapore. Using the letters that the father had sent the mother from the United States, an agency helped them find him. They are reunited, but the daughter does not recognize her father because he now dresses differently and has a mustache, but still tells the same funny stories. Finally, the daughter recognizes her father and they are reunited. Unlike Last Flight, Finding Papa does not explain why the father left Vietnam for the United States and that there was much civil strife in their home country. 

Caldecott Honor illustrator, Thi Bui, adds compelling and beautiful illustrations to the story showing the harrowing journey the mother and daughter take through the jungles and open seas.

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