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Children's Nonfiction Cultural Heritage

Too Young to Escape

A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family

by (author) Van Ho & Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Pajama Press Inc.
Initial publish date
Nov 2018
Cultural Heritage, Multigenerational, Modern, New Experience, Emigration & Immigration
Recommended Age
8 to 12
Recommended Grade
3 to 7
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2018
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2020
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Dec 2020
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Download Teacher’s Guide

Where to buy it


One day they will send for her, but how long must Van Ho wait for her family to find a way to get her out of South Vietnam?

During the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Van wakes up one morning to find that her mother, her sisters Loan and Lan, and her brother Tuan are gone. They have escaped the new communist regime that has taken over Ho Chi Minh City for freedom in the West. Four-year-old Van is too young--and her grandmother is too old--for such a dangerous journey by boat, so the two have been left behind. Once settled in North America, her parents will eventually be able to sponsor them, and Van and her grandmother will fly away to safety. But in the meantime, Van is forced to work hard to satisfy her aunt and uncle, who treat her like an unwelcome servant. And at school she must learn that calling attention to herself is a mistake, especially when the bully who has been tormenting her turns out to be the son of a military policeman.

Van Ho's true story strikes at the heart and will resonate with so many families affected by war, where so many children are forced to live under or escape from repressive regimes.


About the authors

Today, Van Ho (Vanessa Gatensby) is happily married to her husband Andrew, and they have two children, Noah and Emma. She has a successful career working for one of the largest medical device companies in the world. Van thinks back to the days when she was forced to get up at 5:00 a.m. to work on the spindle, and she is grateful that she's never had to make the tough decisions her mom and dad were confronted with.


Van Ho's profile page


Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch est l’auteure d’une dizaine de livres dont Cher Journal : Prisonniers de la grande forêt, Enfant volée, Soldat clandestin et Faire des bombes pour Hitler. Elle a remporté de nombreux prix et est l’une des auteures canadiennes de romans historiques pour les jeunes les plus respectées. L’écriture de Marsha met en relief son héritage ukrainien. Elle a reçu l’Ordre de la princesse Olga de la part du président ukrainien. Elle vit à Brantford, en Ontario.


MARSHA FORCHUK SKRYPUCH is the author of more than a dozen books, including Dear Canada: Prisoners in the Promised Land, Stolen Child, Making Bombs for Hitler, Underground Soldier and Don’t Tell the Enemy. She has won many awards for her work and is one of Canada’s most respected authors of historical fiction for young people. Much of Marsha’s writing focuses on stories from her Ukrainian heritage, and she has been presented with the Order of Princess Olha by the President of Ukraine and named a Canadian Ukrainian Woman of Distinction. Marsha lives in Brantford, Ontario. Visit her online at

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's profile page


  • Winner, Forest of Reading Yellow Cedar Award
  • Short-listed, Hackmatack Children's Choice Award
  • Winner, Red Cedar Book Award: Information
  • Short-listed, Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award
  • Commended, USBBY Outstanding International Books List selection
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens selection
  • Commended, ILA Notable Books for a Global Society selection
  • Commended, CBC Books "The best Canadian YA and children's literature of 2018" selection
  • Runner-up, NCTA Freeman Book Award: Young Adult/Middle School Literature Honorable Mention
  • Commended, Junior Library Guild selection
  • Commended, CBC Books "13 Canadian middle-grade books to watch for this fall" selection
  • Commended, CBC Books "12 Canadian books to commemorate Remembrance Day" selection

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family

2020 Forest of Reading Yellow Cedar Award Winner

2020 Red Cedar Book Award: Information Winner

2018 NCTA Freeman Book Award: Young Adult/Middle School Literature Honorable Mention

2019 USBBY Outstanding International Books List selection

2019 ILA Notable Books for a Global Society selection

2020 SYRCA Diamond Willow Award finalist

2020 Hackmatack Award nominee

2019 Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award shortlist

2019 CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens selection

2018 CBC Books "The best Canadian YA and children's literature of 2018" selection

2018 CBC Books "13 Canadian middle-grade books to watch for this fall" selection

2018 CBC Books "12 Canadian books to commemorate Remembrance Day" selection

2018 Junior Library Guild selection

★ STARRED REVIEW "The story is told from Van's childhood perspective, with age-appropriate vocabulary and emotional heft. But readers of all ages will be immediately drawn to the simple, direct narration....[T]he authors eschew sentimentality and sensationalism, creating a straightforward autobiography that is truthful about resilience and the often unpredictable ways children act and react."—Quill & Quire Starred Review

"As a work of fragmented and painful memories from the time Van was between the ages of four and eight, the narrative is impressively credible, capturing her feelings of confused abandonment, visceral descriptions of her life in Ho Chi Minh City, and gradual adjustment to being separated from her immediate family. Also well integrated are the family's hardened cynicism towards the communist government and their determination to forge on despite poverty and corruption. Family photographs and appended interviews with both Van's parents add a particular poignancy to her narrative."—Booklist

"With simple but engaging language, Skrypuch recounts Van Ho's true story of her lonely and hard life in Vietnam during the years she was separated from her family....This illuminating chapter book respects an often overlooked demographic, providing transitioning readers a truthful yet age-appropriate introduction to big issues that still affect people to this day."—Kirkus Reviews

"A short and poignant narrative..."—The Horn Book Guide

"[A]n extremely engaging account of a childhood in challenging circumstances....Too Young to Escape is a welcome reminder of the post-Vietnam War refugee crisis that saw Canada, France, the United States and Australia welcome strangers in need. Readers will appreciate hearing this personal story from a child's perspective....Van's story and those of her family members remain timeless as well as time-specific. Highly Recommended.”—CM Magazine

"[A] compelling story about the aftermath of war for children....Too Young to Escape offers a piercing firsthand account of the conflict in Vietnam, which continues to resonate in popular culture decades later. The book's plucky young protagonist adds a diverse voice to a literature that be necessary for today's readers."—Resource Links

"The first-person narrative should hold readers riveted...The importance of family shines through this compelling memoir, and a series of color photographs adds to the emotional impact."—Youth Services Book Review

"Anyone with an interest in Vietnamese history should read this book. I'd recommend this book because it's an interesting topic. This book was an emotional roller coaster, I loved it."—Sophia, Age 12, Kids Book Buzz

"Readers will be impressed by Van Ho's respectful kindness towards her Ba Ngoai and her obedience to her aunt and uncle who, at great risk, have taken in many family members. Van's fortitude in dealing with being left behind, and making the best of her situation are evident in her story....Too Young To Escape is another excellent, well-written book by Canadian Ukrainian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch that brings to light recent history in a meaningful way..."—Libris Notes

"This joint project between two Canadian authors gives readers a glimpse into the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of a child being left behind when her family becomes refugees. Interviews with her father and mother at the end of the book, as well as historical photographs, allows readers to better understand why a young child might be left behind and explains the sacrifice of every family member involved in immigration as refugees. A companion story of her brother's experience as a refugee, Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival, (2017) is told in picture book format and has been shortlisted for a number of awards. Both of these stories are important for both Canadian-born and foreign-born Canadians, to help young children develop a sense of identity and belonging as Canadians."—ASLC Litpicks

"Van Ho, who lived this story, tells it through Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's pen of extraordinary writing which reflects both Van’s youthful point of view and her trauma. Her story is disquieting but it's also uplifting, focusing on Van's resilience."—CanLit for LittleCanadians

"This story brings to life the situations and circumstances that the Vietnam refugees fled, and creates some understanding for young readers of the difficulties faced by them. The day to day reality of life in Vietnam for Van and her grandmother are shown in detail, and the photos included here allow the reader to connect with the young girl."—Canadian Bookworm

"Skrypuch beautifully captured the perspective of a young child. The voice is simple and believable....At the end of the book are interviews with both Van Ho and her mother. This was a well-deployed device to allow the adult perspective, which would be unavailable to the young narrator at the time. By structuring the book this way, we're able to get a fuller picture of the family's experience while remaining true to the main character's voice and age in the story. I highly recommend this story of immigration for all middle grade readers."—Laura Lillibridge

"The book was a great read. Growing up in Canada around the same time, it's hard to imagine how fast a child has to grow up in order to survive in other parts of the world. I have always been very grateful to live in this country and this book is another example of why."—Booktime


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