“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Song for Cambodia • Picture book (nonfiction)

A Song for Cambodia
by Michelle Lord
Illustrated by Shino Arihara

Spring 2008 • Lee & Low Books • Nonfiction picture book
The true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, Cambodian American musician and human rights activist, who survived the Khmer Rouge work camps by learning to play a musical instrument.
Story: When Arn was a young boy in Cambodia, his days were filled with love, laughter, and the sweet sounds of music. That all changed suddenly in 1975 when Arn’s village was invaded by Khmer Rouge soldiers and his family was torn apart. Arn was taken to a children’s work camp, where he labored long hours in the rice fields under the glaring eyes of threatening soldiers. Overworked, underfed, and in constant fear for his life, Arn had to find a way to survive. When guards asked for volunteers to play music one day, Arn bravely raised his hand—taking a chance that would change the course of his life.
Story Behind the Story: Author Michelle Lord first learned about Arn Chorn-Pond while watching a documentary, and wanted to share his incredible story with young readers. Arn Chorn-Pond spent four years in a Khmer Rouge labor camp before escaping to a refugee camp in Thailand at the age of 12. Eventually he was adopted by one of the volunteers at the camp, who brought Arn to live in the United States.

Years later, Arn (pictured in photo) founded the Children of War Organization and in 1988 received the Reebok Human Rights award for his work with survivors of war. He also created the Cambodian Living Arts program to support Cambodian artists and musicians who had been left in poverty after the Pol Pot regime.

A Song for Cambodia was named an honor book in Social Studies by the Society of School Librarians International (SSLI).

“Amazing and inspiring, this biography is an excellent choice for multicultural studies.”

“A sensitive reconstruction . . . effectively captures the terror and tension of life under the Pol Pot regime. Arihara crafts somber scenes in broad brushstrokes to illustrate this important story of devastation and rebuilding in Southeast Asia.”
Kirkus Reviews

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.


K.Deeb, Sarasota Florida said...

This book is great. You must take the time read this book. Student can see what Cambodia is like. Excellent, please purchase this books you will have no regrets.... K.Deeb, Sarasota Florida

Lisa Kennedy said...

On a beautiful, spring day I read a beautiful book for any day. It is so important for each of us to understand what we have been given and what we should give back. A Song for Cambodia will touch the heart of young and old alike. For those of us old enough to remember the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge a reminder to help prevent any future such tragedy. Although almost unbelievable to young people the knowledge that this is a true story will hopefully inspire them to achieve for others as well as themselves. A glimpse into history through the eyes of a boy, now a man. This is a wonderful book and worthy of a full 5! I would recommend it for any library.

Lindsay said...

This is one of the most moving picture books I have ever read. I was truly touched by Arn's story and experience.

I think students will really connect with this book and the story of what was happening in Cambodia during this time period. The experience is chilling and it is so important to make our students aware that these situations have existed and still exist today. What a great picture book to introduce a unit on the region or a study of the Khmer Rouge or Cambodia. This could be a great companion book to a unit on cultures or tragedies of the world.

The foreward is so essential to the book because it provides such a framework for the time period.

I loved the list of sources at the end - that will definitely be helpful for students who want more information.

The afterword is inspiring and I love that he is doing so much to help preserve a culture that is so important to his home country.

What a fantastic book!
Picnic Basket Rating: 5/5

Lindsay Horne
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, VA

Lisa said...

This is definitely a picture book with a message. It's a story of hope, survival, and bravery. The author is writing about an actual person who survived a very difficult time in the history of his homeland, Cambodia. This book can teach something about history as well as culture.

Although this is a picture book, it is not an appropriate read for all students. As an elementary teacher, I would not choose to share this book with any of my students. Often times picture books are mistaken as appropriate for young students simply because of the format and the fact that it has illustrations. There are parts of the story that would need to be discussed in great detail in order for students to understand them. There are also illustrations (soldiers with guns, a soldier pulling a boy away from his family) and this could create fear for some children. This book would have to be reviewed and evaluated based on the student audience and the context in which it's being used before sharing it with children.

Cori said...

This book is a wonderful addition for any classroom library. I found the story to be heartfelt and a wonderful story for teaching about other cultures.
I also found the illustrations to be wonderfully drawn to enhance the story.

Linda said...

It's always difficult to find books that can write about war in a non judgemental way, embedding history into the text...while keeping the student's interest. This book does it all. What will make it relevant to students is to be able to connect that this author is indeed alive and a witness to the horrors of war. It has a mix of Baseball Saved Us in the story line. I give it a 5!

Amanda said...

A Song for Cambodia tells such a beautiful, yet real, story. The author, Michelle Lord, tells Arn's story of life in Cambodia during the a time of Khmer Rouge invasions in an honest and non-judgmental manner. The music in a time of sorrow was very touching and helps pass along a message of hope and healing.

As a librarian, I would love to have this on my shelves, though because of its heavy topic, I would not be using it with my typical "picture book" readers. Not only is the text longer than most picture books (though necessary to tell the story properly), but the situations simply not appropriate for that age group.

The illustrations, done by Shino Arihara, are absolutely beautiful and accompany the story perfectly.

A great book, highly recommended.

EShay said...

Although I wasn't sure about the book when looking at the cover. I quickly fell in love with A Song for Cambodia. The story was truly heartwarming. I grew up with children who came to America from Vietnam, so this book hit home. The afterword truly cemented the book for me. I would say older elementary students could grasp the story. I didn't love the pictures, but the story overcomes any obstacles.
What a wonderful story and message!
I give it a 5.

Lemon the Duck said...

What a story of perserverance and hope! I thought this book was a winner. What an opportunity to build schema about war, perserverance, Cambodia, etc.
What better way to learn about history, but through Arn's true and inspirational story.
The rice paper background and primitive style illustrations captured the culture and mood.
This book would be great to compare with stories of similar situations throughout our world. Right away this story got me thinking about comparing it to "The Lotus Seed" and how in each of the stories, the characters hold on to their cherished culture in their own personal way.
The foreward and back matter provided their own valuable information and allowed the reader a starting point to continue the journey.
Arn is an amazing and inspirational person. Everyone should have access to his story. I rate this book a 5 out of 5.

Kelsey B. said...

What a wondeful book! A Song for Cambodia is nicely written and illustrated. It opened my eyes up to a culture and history that I was unaware of, and it has the power to do that to students as well. The foreword and afterword were also beneficial.

I strongly recommend this book for upper elementary and middle school even. A definite 5 out of 5!

Kelsey B.
7th grade English

Anonymous said...

An amazing book! The word choice and illustration make this book come alive. A great story to open not only young adult's eyes to the monstrosities of war but to show the resilience of youth. A recommended read for everyone!
R. Carney, Kimberly, ID

Heather S. Hill said...

I loved the purposeful and powerful message of this book. I did feel like too much was shoved in to tie it all up nicely and that lots of the rich story had been left out. Several books or even a memoir might have done Arn's story more justice. I also think that his current work in Cambodia may prove to be another important story to tell.

I rate it 4 out of 5.

Heather S. Hill
Reading Specialist
Sinclair Elementary
Manassas, VA

Hannah said...

I was impressed by this book. It tells a story of a time with which most students are unfamiliar. The story of Arn Chorn-Pond is certainly inspirational, but I believe some elements of the story would be too scary for young children. Presented by a teacher with opportunity for discussion, this book could be a wonderful learning opportunity. Thought would have to be given as to whether or not the audience is ready to handle such an intense story, however.

5th grade teacher

Cindy said...

Wow! This book really touched my heart. It's difficult to imagine what the people of Cambodia were going through during this time. This book will be an excellent source when teaching my 6th graders to monitor their comprehension. At the same time, they will be learning about what people in other parts of the world have gone through.

Laurie said...

Awesome book. The book made your heart ache for the people of Cambodia and what they endured.
It is an excellent book for showing children what these children went through and how you can make something positive come out of even the unthinkable.
The foreward and additional info. at the end of the book were very informative and helpful and really make the book something special.

Also, the illustrations were very nicely done.

I would highly recommend this book for all ages.

Susan Appleton said...

A wonderful book full of beautiful artwork and inspiring messages of courage, survival, and a will to survive! This was a very compelling story that I learned a bit of historical information from while also sympathizing with the character who endured so very very much! It is really eye-opening! A well-deserved 5 out of 5 ranking! Loved it!

Sandra Stiles said...

A Song for Cambodia was one of those books that is beautiful and simple yet carries such a powerful message. Most of my students don't know where Cambodia is or what life is or was like for most people living there. I have not felt so much emotion for a character since I read books about survivors of the Holocaust. This book gives you hope for the future of those who have life so much more difficult than we have and at the same time shows us things we may be able to do to reach out to our fellow man. I give this book a 4.5

El said...

The simple prose introduces young readers to the survival story of Arn Chorn-Pond. While readers are told about the tragedy that shapes his life, the story remains uplifting and focused on his efforts to survive and the vital role that music played in his life. This is an important story that offers a view of an important historical event through the eyes of a child, yet teaches children about the importance of perseverance. The illustrations masterfully extend the story. A wonderful, powerful read. Four stars! Recommended without reservation.

Tina's Blog said...

A Song For Cambodia by Michelle Lord is an excellent picture book for my elementary students about the events that occurred in Cambodia. I am sure my students know nothing of the Khmer Rouge and this book is written at a level they will understand. They will also be able to connect with Arn who is a young boy living through a horrible war. Because there are illustrations and not photographs my students will ask many times (even after I tell them) whether this is fiction or non-fiction. They are always amazed by the non-fiction stories and this will be no exception. I give this book a 5!

Amy said...

While I thought this book was wonderful I was disappointed it was not actually put together. Maybe next time the publisher can at least staple it or bind it, rather than just making it a hard back. The story was very interesting though, and I think appropriate for multiple ages.

Agile Software Developer said...

I just sent a request for this. I absolute loved and adored Savvy!! This sounds just as awesome!