The Cambodian Dancer: Sophany’s Gift of Hope is a beautiful children’s picture book about a young Cambodian girl forced to leave her country who finds strength in traditional dance steps. The illustrations are well-done and in a style that matches the spirit of the book’s title character Sophany. Though not written by a Cambodian, it is based on the true story of a friend of the author.
As to be expected, the book only lightly touches on the cause of Sophany’s flight from her country — “The Khmer Rouge are bad” — while focusing more on the struggle to find one self and the reclaiming of culture and identity in her new home in America.
Beginning with Sophany learning dance in Cambodia before leaving the country as a child, the book ends on a lovely note of Sophany teaching other girls traditional Cambodian dance. It quickly covers her growth from child to adult, to then highlight the kind of inter-generational care she shows in establishing a Cambodian community in the United States.
The Cambodian Dancer was recently awarded the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Silver Medal for Non-Fiction Picture Book.