Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme

As thin as this title might seem, it actually embodies three important sections.

The main focus is clearly the story of young Mali, which begins with her carefree life in her native Laos filled with everyday reminders “that the world was big – ngai – and full of wonderful things.” Writer/artist Youme paints Mali’s joy climbing flowering trees, catching tiny fish, making spicy feasts, and tying strings around the wrists of family members and special friends as a reminder “that their hearts would always be together.”

Mali’s idyllic life is shattered when war encroaches, driving her and her family through a dangerous journey across the Mekong River. The family lands “in the worst place [Mali] had ever been, a crowded jail.” In spite of the fear, with the help of the strings on her wrist, she remembers her beautiful home and shares her wonderful memories with the people around her. Her memories are catching: “They remembered their own beautiful homes. And though the journey to a new home would be long and hard, their hearts were safe when they remembered where they had come from.” And so the story ends with “Soag sai – blessings.”

Then turn the page, and the real Mali appears, now a grown woman, an international artist. Her Self-Portrait faces her life story on the opposite page that begins “I am Mali.” Her full name – Malichansouk Kouanchao – she explains, means “‘fortuitously guided by the lights of the night sky.'” In spite of war, in spite of imprisonment, in spite of so much loss, Mali “grew up to be an artist and an activist so that all people may celebrate their own creativity even in the most difficult situations.” Having lived all over the world, meeting artists along the way, she’s learned that “we all find that our homes are safe in our hearts, even though they may not be safe in the world …”

On the book’s final page are the words of Thavisouk Phrasavath, a Laotian American writer, artist, and filmmaker, whose documentary The Betrayal: Nerakhoon was nominated for an Oscar in 2009. His words are haunting: “I was born in Laos during the civil war. There has never been a time without war for me …” His words are potent truth. War has not ended for Mali, for Thavisouk, for far too many people in the world … somewhere in the world, war endlessly wages on.

Today, December 7, marks the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy,” as forever coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seven decades later, infamy lives on, stealing childhoods, families, homes, lives. Now as another year comes to a close, we pray for peace … again and again … again and again … Here’s another hopeful, urgent prayer …

Readers: Children

Published: 2010


Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Laotian, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American

6 responses to “Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme

  1. youme

    Thank you so much for sharing our stories with your readership! Here is Malichansouk’s website. Readers may also be interested in!/XiengMieng by the multitalented Nor Sonavongsay. All the Best, Soag Sai, youme

    • How wonderful to find the author in the Comments box! Who hooooo!

      Thanks for pointing out Mail’s website … I will link to the post, as well!

      Do come back and visit BookDragon again soon …

      P.S. Sequel …?

      • youme

        Honored by the request. Every book I have written seems to me infinite in every direction. For my first published book about Haiti, earliest drafts started before human footprint, I was excited to explore visually hundreds of years, somehow condensed into less than one year. My second book, which is co-written with the man who lived it, Anthony Horton, tells of his adventures as a teenager living below the subway tunnels in New York. New York teeming with stories. And now Mali Under the Night Sky, while researching the book (Mali invited me to write her story after reading my first book) in Vientiane, Lao P.D.R. for ten months into 2005 I can certainly say there is so much more to tell, and so many qualified people to tell it. If there are publishers out there willing (many thanks to Cinco Puntos Press!) we certainly have more to write and to illustrate. For Mali’s story specifically do visit her website and follow She is a powerful and visionary artist! Thank you again for your interest in the work.

        p.s. are you familiar with

        • Thanks so much for all the links … we can all continue on Mali’s journey together. I still say a sequel would be grand indeed … Cinco Puntos?

          So did you go to the August first-ever Lao American writers’ conference?? And …?

  2. youme

    The Lao American Writer’s conference was inspiring and educational. Bryan Thao Worra is an active poet and art’s organizer. I met and listened to writer’s from all over the country.

    I was honored to be a participant in the inaugural Lao American Writer’s Summit. It was transformative to see and hear people I had read on paper as workshop leaders and performing their stunning work, and to work with the community to express future goals and to encourage new writers.

    Moments I remember in particular; a workshop on publishing wherein a high school teacher (attending with hopes of gathering information for his students), a high school student (from a different school, attending with hopes of being published), and published authors engaged in dialogue regarding specific strategies to reach everyone’s goals,

    Moving testimony in the multimedia and community organizing workshops addressing intergenerational networking and audience building,

    and of course the in-between-workshops when so much happens, sitting next to artists during performances and meals, getting to know one another, because as writers our personal journeys are our creative journeys.

    Mali Under the Night Sky had not yet been released, but I had two preview copies to share. It was valuable to get feedback from participants in the workshop, I wish I had been in contact with everyone there before the book went to print!

    Thank you for asking about it. I expect we will all be hearing great things from this community of writers!

    • Thanks so much for such a detailed report. I can well imagine how inspiring AND gratifying the experience must have been for you! For the rest of the participants, too! WOW.

      The intergenerational networking is only going to grow in importance for sure, especially as the multimedia/techno tools continue to rapidly change the world of publishing. [Luddites like me shudder, but am thrilled to think about the growing access for future generations!]

      Now that you’ve established contact with such an inspiring community, surely you can use those connections for the NEXT book which I am SURE you are working on!

      Keep me posted on upcoming Laotian American titles that shouldn’t be missed. Am convinced right along with you that more great things are coming …!

      Thanks again. Come visit BookDragon again soon!

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