Kai Cheng Thom’s From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea (2017)

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the SeaFrom the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea (2017), written by Kai Cheng Thom and illustrated by Wai-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching, is about a child named Miu Lan who cannot choose what to be: a boy or a girl, a bird or a fish. Their mother loves them unconditionally and lets them try out different expressions and identities. The child has a beautiful life.

Soon it is time for the child to start school. They happily rush off to start their first day, decked out in tiger stripes and peacock feathers. At school the children refuse to play with them, and one pulls their peacock feathers. Subsequent days are just as bad.

When they finally confide in their mother, she empathizes without trying to take the pain away. She tells Miu Lan that being different can be hard, but it is a choice that can be made. She doesn’t try to control the situation but supports her child through it. Miu Lin’s classmates soon accept them in all their complexity. Even more, they begin to model themselves after the child who is a little bird, a little fish, a little girl, a little boy.

This is a beautiful book. It contains far more queer possibility than most children’s picture books. I love that Miu Lan’s mother empowers them through unconditional love and support without attempting to protect or control, both of which are disempowering strategies of care. I also adore that the children at Miu Lan’s school do not just accept them, they begin to emulate them. Miu Lan queers the playground.

This sweet story belongs on every bookshelf. I checked it out of the library but I’m going to purchase a copy immediately and put this in our bedtime story circulation. The illustrations are creative and calming while also being vibrant. There’s a dreamy softness to them. I found myself imagining creative possibilities beyond those offered on the page while lingering on the art.

Simply perfect.

This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The New Queer Children’s Literature: Exploring the Principles and Politics of LGBTQ* Children’s Picture Books, which is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. Part of my research is identifying and interpreting English-language children’s picture books with LGBTQ* content published in the US and Canada between 1979 and 2019. Follow my blog to follow my journey!

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