Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, November 26, 2012

Last Airlift by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Last Airlift: a Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War 
By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press Inc.
ISBN: 978098694950
Grades 4 and up
We obtained this book from our local public library.
In 1975, over 2,000 orphaned children were airlifted out of South Vietnam when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Children who were disabled or the product of a Vietnamese woman and U.S. soldier would be killed. In Last Airlift, Marsha Skrypuch describes the rescue experience by one orphan, Son Thi Anh Tuyet, who suffered from polio. For Tuyet, leaving Vietnam meant a promise of a new life in a new country.

Tuyet was eight years old in 1975. She thought all children lived together in a building. She never went outside, it was far too dangerous. Tuyet could not remember ever seeing the sky above her head. 

One day, without any warning, everything changed. A man came to the orphanage and helped the nuns pack up diapers, formula, water, and bedding. Babies were placed in boxes, sometimes two to a box. Each child’s name was written on a plastic strip that was placed on its wrist. Then, everything was packed into a white Volkswagon van and driven to the airport. As Tuyet was entering the van she looked around her and saw the streets full of people running. Some carried suitcases; others carried children. Some people were screaming; others were weeping. What Tuyet did not know was that North Vietnam tanks were entering Saigon. 

Readers will immediately be drawn in from the very first page. The book only covers Tuyet’s journey by airplane from Saigon to Toronto, Canada and her adoption to a new family who loves her very much. When Tuyet is flying to Canada, another orphan, Linh, gives her some advise. Whenever someone asks you something in English, answer, No. That will stop them from doing what they were going to do. The last three chapters are most touching as we learn just how patient Tuyet’s new family is as they learn how to communicate with each other. (They do not speak Vietnamese) Some of the changes in Tuyet’s life were difficult. For instance, Tuyet was used to sleeping with all the other orphans on the floor at the orphanage, she is unable to adjust to sleeping alone in a bed in her own bedroom.

Historic black & white photographs, including some of Tuyet, enhance the reading experience. 

In a historic note, Skrypuch briefly explains the rescue operation. In her Author’s note, we learn that Tuyet currenly lives in Skrypuch’s hometown of Brantford, Ontario. It is great to see Tuyet as a grown up woman.

The Vietnam War era was a time of monumental social change. There was Roe v. Wade, protest songs, Hippies, Woodstock, anti-establishment, Malcolm X, Hell’s Angels, student led marches and protests demanding the US end their involvement in Vietnam.  Bob Dole even wore bell-bottoms!

You could tie this book with other nonfiction titles about Vietnam, The Vietnam War, Escape from Saigon: a Vietnam War Orphan becomes an American boy by Andrea Warren, and a biography of Muhammand Ali. For fiction, try Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, Free-Fire Zone by Chris Lynch (and other titles in this series), All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg, and The Wall by Eve Bunting. Visit the author's web site.


  1. Dear Cathy and Louise,
    Thanks for the wonderful review! Tuyet and I both love it!

  2. Another fiction book to pair it with is Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt.