Finding Papa

finding papa

This poignant and lyrical debut picture book based on the author’s own experience and illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Thi Bui follows young Mai and her mother’s perilous journey from Vietnam to America to find Papa—who left ahead of them to start a better life for their family.

No one can make Mai laugh like her Papa! She loves playing their favorite game—the crocodile chomp chomp! But then Papa leaves Vietnam in search of a new home for their family in America and Mai misses him very much.

Until one day, Mama and Mai pack a small bag and say goodbye to the only home Mai has ever known. And so begins Mai and Mama’s long, perilous journey by foot and by boat, through dangers and darkness, to find Papa.

Finding Papa reminds us that love and courage can stretch an ocean and that nothing can keep us apart from those we care about. ---from the publisher

40 pages 978-0063060968 Ages 5-9

Keywords: immigration, immigrants, journey, Asia, Vietnam, fathers, courage, diversity, diverse books, 5 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old, 8 year old, 9 year old, respecting others, Social Studies Curriculum


“When it comes to the economy, immigration has fostered innovation, fueled growth, and helped to shape the development of whole industries. Immigrants practically invented Silicon Valley. They’ve had an outsize role in high-tech, now one of the national economy’s largest components, starting and running major new companies and spearheading innovations in them — think Google’s Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin, or eBay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, born in France to Iranian migrant parents. In 2018, over half of the 91 U.S. startup companies valued at $1 billion or more had at least one immigrant founder; more than 80% of these companies employed immigrants in key management or product development roles, commonly as chief technology officers and vice presidents of engineering.”


“There was a lady name of Annie May

She fell in love at the zoo one day

That crocodile with the big white smile

Stole her very heart away”

– Janis Ian (2006)

“Mai’s favorite game to play with Papa was the crocodile chomp. When Papa went ‘CHOMP! CHOMP!’ Mai would giggle and squeal. Crocodiles were scary, but Papa was not.

One morning, Papa gave Mai a long hug. It was longer than usual. Papa gave Mama a big kiss. It was bigger than usual.

Then Mai watches Papa walk down the village dirt road. Papa always waved and smiled at the end of the road, but this time, Papa cried.

Papa did not come home for dinner. He did not come home for playtime, either.

‘Chomp, chomp,’ Mai said to herself.”

Mama and Mai stay behind in their Vietnamese village of rice paddies and palm trees and dirt roads while Papa ventures off to find a new home for the family. Letters periodically arrive from Papa, until it is time for Mama and Mai to reunite with him in America.

FINDING PAPA is a beautiful, love-filled, picture book story of a young child’s immigration experience. The tale, which is based on the author’s own family story,  focuses on Mama and Mai’s arduous and dangerous journey to get to their new country and new home. They depart Vietnam in an overcrowded boat, one not designed for long oceanic trips. When a storm and huge waves threaten to capsize the small craft, the boatload of refugees are rescued by a large ship that happens to spot them. After a stay at a refugee center, Mai and Mama cross the ocean and are finally reunited with Papa.

FINDING PAPA will make for a captivating circle time tale. Young children can be prompted to learn about their own immigrant backgrounds, or those of their ancestors, and to bring stories to share with the class. You tell me your story, and I’ll tell you about my Sicilian immigrant grandparents.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California

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