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Activities for Learning about Vietnamese Culture

Chi Nguyen. Cooking the Vietnamese Way (Minneapolis, 1985)--Tompkins County Public Library J 641.59 N--This cookbook would be ideal for use in a classroom, because the recipes have been simplified (including suggestions of substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients) and the cultural importance of many of the foods explained.


Christine Osborne. Southeast Asian Food and Drink (New York, 1989)--Tompkins County Public Library J641.59 Osbourne--Recipes are interspersed among explanations of staple foods, cooking methods, meal customs, and agriculture in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The food photographs will make you hungry.


Phyllis Shalant. Look What We've Brought You from Vietnam: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories and Other Cultural Activities from New Americans (New York, 1988)--Tompkins County Public Library J745.5 S--Explanations of Vietnamese holidays and traditions with crafts and food to make, stories to tell. Probably most suitable for elementary school children as is, but a teacher could adapt the activities for older students.


Picture Books/Children's Stories (for elementary classrooms)

Sherry Garland. The Lotus Seed (New York, 1993)--Tompkins County Public Library E Garland--Story of a little girl who picks a lotus seed on the night the Vietnamese emperor abdicates his throne, and who preserves it through all the troubles Vietnam and she experience in the coming decades. Upon moving to America, one of the by-now grandmother's grandchildren takes the seed and loses it in the family's yard. But the seed blossoms into a beautiful lotus, and the grandchildren receive their own lotus seeds, to remind them of their heritage.


Holly Keller. Grandfather's Dream (New York, 1994)

--Story of a little Vietnamese boy's grandfather who convinces the others in their village to turn some of the land over to a preserve to attract again the cranes (an important bird in Vietnamese history), which have not been seen for years due to the disruption of war. Many in the village would prefer to use the land to grow rice, but agree to try for a couple of years. The cranes do return at the end of the story. Watercolor illustrations.


Michele Maria Surat. Angel Child, Dragon Child (Austin, 1992)

--Story of a Vietnamese girl who moves to America, and the troubles she encounters at school, as well as her sadness because her mother was unable to join the family. Ends happily when her school raises money for her mother to join family in America.


 Vietnames Folktalkes

Gail B. Graham. The Beggar in the Blanket and other Vietnamese Tales (New York, 1970)--Eight tales from Vietnam, nicely illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings.


Lynette Dyer Vuong. The Brocaded Slipper and Other Vietnamese Tales (New York, 1982)--paperback, $3.95--Five well-known tales from Vietnam, nicely told. A few illustrations, but clearly aimed at a upper-elementary and older audience. Author explanations at end of book explain some of the important cultural elements in the stories.


My-Van Tran. Folk Tales from Indochina (Victoria, Australia, 1987)--Cornell University's Kroch Library ASIA GR308.T77--Bilingual edition, intended to be used in English classes for Vietnamese immigrants. Eight folk tales from Vietnam as well as six from Cambodia and five from Laos. Pen-and-ink illustrations.


Non-Fiction for Students

Sherry Garland. Vietnam: Rebuilding a Nation (Minneapolis, 1990)--Cornell University's Kroch Library ASIA DS556.3 G23--Readable descriptions of religion, history, government, family life, schools, etc. in Vietnam. Includes many nice photographs. Author is clearly opposed to current government of Vietnam, and some editorial comments detract from balanced tone. Although published in 1990, does not take into acccount new economic developments stemming from policy of doi moi.


Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. Vietnam: Why We Fought, An Illustrated History (New York, 1990)--Tompkins County Public Library 959.704 Hoobler--If your students want to learn more about the American war in Vietnam (in contrast with French or Cambodian), this book will provide a good overview as an introduction. Almost all the photographs are black and white. The tone is balanced, but the suggestions for further reading section is disappointingly short.


Karen Jacobsen. Vietnam (Chicago, 1992)--Tompkins County Public Library J 959.7--For elementary school students, a brief description of the climate, people, geography, history, economic and social life, and holidays of Vietnam. Color photographs throughout.


Patricia Norland. Children of the World: Vietnam (Milwaukee, 1991)--Tompkins County Public Library J 959.704 or to buy, call 1-800-341-3569--For elementary school students, follows the daily life of an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl, Ho Thi Kim Chau, who lives near Ho Chi Minh City. Students learn about family life, the economy, schools, and holidays. At end of book, brief overview of Vietnam more generally. Excellent color photographs.


Audrey Seah. Cultures of the World: Vietnam (New York, 1994)--Cornell University's Kroch Library ASIA DS556.3.S43 1994--A good introduction to Vietnam for junior high and high school students. Covers geography, history, government, economy, the people, education, religion, the arts, festivals, and food. Color photographs throughout. A balanced presentation.


Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt. Passage to Vietnam: Through the Eyes of Seventy Photographers (Hong Kong, 1994)--Tompkins County Public Library O 959.7044 Passage--A beautifully photographed study of contemporary Vietnam. Wonderful for giving students an idea of the "look" of Vietnam. The accompanying text is sometimes uninformed and often romanticized, but the photos speak more loudly.


David K. Wright. Enchantment of the World: Vietnam (Chicago, 1989)--Tompkins County Public Library J 959.7--Same approach as Audrey Seah's book, but more attention to the struggle for independence. Information on the economy is rapidly becoming out-of-date, but the tone is balanced. Photos throughout, but not as lush as Audrey Seah's book.


Fiction about/from Vietnam

Bao Ninh. Sorrows of War (London, 1993)--Rapidly becoming a classic, the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young Vietnamese who fought with the North Vietnamese Army. It is told from the vantage of several years after the war has ended, but uses flashbacks to explore the then and continuing horror of the war for Vietnam.


Le Ly Hayslip. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Penguin, 1990)--This novel, and its sequel, have been made into a movie by Oliver Stone. The book is better than the movie, and while often overly dramatic or sentimental, Hayslip makes a point to try to convey her understanding of Vietnamese history and culture. Her view differs from many scholars, but her story is a compelling one.


Nguyen Du, The Tale of Kieu, translated by Huynh Sanh Thong (New Haven, 1983)--This is the classic epic poem of Vietnamese literature, and even today many Vietnamese are familiar with the poem. This particular edition is bilingual.


Duong Thu Huong. Paradise of the Blind (Penguin, 1988, 1993)--Story of a young woman, her mother, and her aunt (father's sister) and their lives in Vietnam during and after the war. Not a "war" novel, although the war and transition to a communist state influenced every part of the characters' lives. As much about a young girl becoming a woman, and struggling to make an independent way in the world in the family-centered society of Vietnam as about any political theme.


Non-Fiction Resources for Teachers

Vietnam: A Teacher's Guide (The Asia Society, 1983)--This booklet focuses primarily on the war in Vietnam, and more than might be wished on the American experience, but provides some information about Vietnamese history and culture. Since the pamphlet is more than 10 years old, it does not include much information about post-war developments in Vietnam.


David P. Elliott, Vietnam: Essays on History, Culture, and Society (The Asia Society, 1985)--Available from The Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021 ph. 212-288-6400--Essays by prominent scholars of Vietnam on topics of history, religion, the traditional village, Vietnamese myths, Vietnamese poetry and revolution in Vietnam. Most of the essays have a more historical than present-day focus.


Gerald Cannon Hickey. Village in Vietnam (New Haven, 1964).--Although published 30 years ago, Hickey was one of the last anthropologists to live in a village in Vietnam for an extended period of time, and his work stands the test of time. As anthropologists begin to get access to rural Vietnam again in the near future, however, they will surely ask whether the traditions Hickey so carefully documented have been affected by the intervening years of war and communist rule.


Neil Jamieson. Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley, 1993)--Jamieson has tried to provide an undated and slightly less academic version of Hickey's Village in Vietnam. He explains Vietnamese culture in terms of yin and yang, the Chinese ideas about balance between different, even contradictory, forces. Although this explanation is too schematic (everything doesn't fit as neatly as Jamieson would like), the book contains excellent and detailed descriptions of traditional Vietnamese family and village life. Understanding Vietnam does not replace Hickey, but is much more easily available if you don't have access to a university library, since it's still in print.


Hy Van Luong. Revolution in the Village: Tradition and Transformation in North Vietnam, 1925-1988 (Hawaii, 1992)--Cornell University's Kroch Library DS559.93 S66 L86x 1992--This excellent study looks at how the changes which Vietnam has experienced since the late 19th century played out in one village in northern Vietnam. Hy Van Luong interviewed many people, and often quotes from the interviews at length. Topics of particular interest are anti-colonial movements, political relations within the village, land tenure, and ceremonies.


Jacqueline M. Piper. Rice in South-east Asia: Cultures and Landscapes (Oxford, 1993)--Cornell University's Kroch Library GR308.P56x 1993--Explores the cultural and historical importance of rice in Southeast Asia. Describes farming methods, superstitions, myths, etc. Emphasizes Indonesia and Malaysia more than other Southeast Asian countries, but provides good introduction to the topic and region.


Hue-Tam Ho Tai. "Religion in Vietnam: A World of Gods and Spirits," The Vietnam Forum 10 (Summer-Fall 1987) 113-145.--Cornell University's Kroch Library DS556.V68--Introductory description of the major religions practiced in Vietnam (with the exception of Catholicism): Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. Emphasizes origins more than current practice, but a brief section on religion in an atheist state.


William S. Turley and Mark Selden, eds. Reinventing Vietnamese Socialism: Doi Moi in Comparative Perspective (Boulder, 1993)--Cornell University's Kroch Library DS559.912 T87x 1993--Some of the foremost scholars of Vietnam explore the general economic, agricultural, and social implications of the new policy of doi moi, which can be compared with perestroika in the former Soviet Union. The concept of doi moi is very important in Vietnam today, and this collection of essays provides a good introduction.


John K. Whitmore, ed. An Introduction to Indochinese History, Culture, Language and Life (University of Michigan, 1978)--Cornell University's Kroch Library DS 537.I42 1978 and photocopies of some chapters in your packet--Some essays are outdated, but generally a decent introduction to history and culture of the three countries of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). The essays on religion and the family are in your packets. The essays may all be photocopied because they are not protected by copyright.




Copies of the essays "Cultural and Religious Patterns," by John K. Whitmore and "The Family in Vietnam and Its Social Life," by Mrs. Phung Thi Hanh , both from the book An Introduction to Indochinese History, Culture, Language and Life (University of Michigan, 1978), are available through SEAP's Outreach Office. This work was published under a federal grant (via the State of Michigan) and is in the public domain.