When Heaven Fell

Book review by
Pam Gelman, Common Sense Media
When Heaven Fell Book Poster Image
Snapshot of Vietnamese culture past and present.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Example of Vietnamese culture from perspective of a girl, including respect to elders, strong work ethic, appreciation of cultural values.

Violence & Scariness

Memories described of bombs dropped, children and other loved ones killed, land mines, mothers having to run in fear, villages burned.

Language

Vietnamese words integrated into text. Glossary at the end.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book is about recollections of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese family, including loved ones dying, bombs dropping, and villages destroyed. A mother, pregnant by an American soldier and fearful for her daughter's life, gives up her child for adoption in America. There are few books that suitably describe this important piece of history for young readers, but this one has accomplished this through the eyes of a likeable Vietnamese 9-year-old girl. Though she was not yet born during this time, she is very curious and asks many questions. The reader learns of traditions, customs, and ways of life that are inherent in Vietnamese culture.

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What's the story?

A 9-year-old Vietnamese girl learns of an aunt living in America who is coming to visit. Her grandmother had a baby by an American soldier during the Vietnam War, but had to give her up, as the Communist party threatened to kill all American-fathered babies.

There is great excitement among the family who thinks that this American woman may bring money as gifts. Maybe she will bring family members back to America who have visions of riches from the few movies seen in town. The aunt arrives, without gifts but filled with love for her family. She also carries painful memories of leaving her mother. Binh and her aunt form a special relationship to help each other understand the different cultures.

Is it any good?

Even for sensitive readers, this book is a wonderful opportunity to expose young kids to a very different world and period of history, and it's a real eye-opener for American kids.

Not many families bring up the Vietnam War for dinner table conversation; it's hard to discuss for some adults, much less children. But Carolyn Marsden has made it easier by authoring WHEN HEAVEN FELL. Marsden has mastered how to describe a complicated period of history as though it's being interpreted by 9-year-old Binh. There are descriptions of children being killed by bombs and mothers hiding in the jungle to escape execution. These pieces are illustrated without blood, gore, or descriptive violence, but the fear is there. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Vietnam War, as appropriate to the individual child. How did the war evolve? And how is Vietnam today shaped by what happened then?

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