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Archive for the ‘Last Airlift’ Category

Forest of Reading Award Nominations

Posted on October 15th, 2012 by pajamapress

Pajama Press is proud to announce that three of our titles have been nominated for 2013 Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading Awards.

Don’t Laugh at Giraffe by Rebecca Bender is nominated for the Blue Spruce Award. Last year, Rebecca won the Blue Spruce Award for her debut picture book, Giraffe and Bird.

No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs by animal activist Rob Laidlaw is nominated for the Silver Birch Nonfiction Award.

Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is nominated for the Red Maple Nonfiction Award.

For more information about the Forest of Reading Awards, visit the Ontario Library Association website at

Our books have also been nominated for three other awards this year:

True Blue, a murder mystery by bestselling author Deborah Ellis, was nominated for the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre John Spray Mystery Award.

Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch was nominated for the British Columbia Red Cedar Nonfiction Award.

Congratulations to all of our nominated authors!

Join us for our 2012 Fall Book Launch and Art show & Sale

Posted on October 4th, 2012 by pajamapress

Download a PDF of the invitation

Last Airlift earns accolade in The Horn Book Magazine

Posted on September 21st, 2012 by pajamapress

“As the North Vietnamese entered Saigon, missionaries rushed to evacuate the most vulnerable orphans: healthy ones might find new homes, but “children with disabilities—like Tuyet—would be killed.” Tuyet, eight, lame from polio, has cared for babies for as long as she can remember. With her help, fifty or so of these tiny orphans are loaded, two to a box, for what proved to be the last such flight to Canada; once there, it is Tuyet who shows their new caregivers that the wailing infants awaiting adoption could be comforted by letting them sleep together on blankets spread on the floor, as they’d always been—an emotional need she shares, as her adoptive family realizes after Tuyet spends a sleepless night alone in her new bedroom. A concluding note describes the return of Tuyet’s memories during conversations with the author, whose third-person re-creation of these transitional months in 1975 makes vivid the uncertainties of confronting a new language, climate, and family. Tuyet’s initial misapprehensions are telling (those points of light in the Canadian sky aren’t bombs but stars), as is her cautious, unfailingly coureous approach to a life that includes such unfamiliar things as play and ample food. Fortunately, her adoptive family is not only well-meaning but loving, creative, and sensitive. An excellent first step on the ladder that leads to such fine immigrant tales as Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again (rev. 3/11). Illustrated with photos. Notes; further resources; index.”

–Joanna Rudge Long, The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2012

Redeemed Reader calls Last Airlift “alternately gripping and touching”

Posted on September 5th, 2012 by pajamapress

“[Tuyet’s] degree of deprivation can be eye-opening for the children of prosperous America, as well as an accessible introduction to this part of American history.  (As somebody who was draft age at the time, it’s still hard for me to think of the Vietnam War as “history”!)”
–Janie, Redeemed Reader

Click here to read the full review

The Vietnamese Orphan Airlift: A Tribute

Posted on August 3rd, 2012 by pajamapress

In 1975, as the city of Saigon in South Vietnam was falling to the North Vietnamese army, western governments and aid workers scrambled to evacuate thousands of orphans who were at risk of being killed. Many flights made it safely to the United States, Canada, England, and elsewhere. One did not. Last week we interviewed Tuyết Phạm, who told us about Mai, the little girl her family would have adopted had her plane not crashed just after takeoff in Vietnam. Today Tuyết shares a tribute she wrote to Mai during her first-ever return visit to Vietnam at the age of 39.

Hello Mai,

It has now been 35 years and I’ve finally returned home to pay homage to our country, to you, and to this crash site.  It’s taken a long time for me to return, but now I am here to celebrate your life. You see, Mai, I was not on that plane, but your would-be brother was.  He was coming to Canada with you to join this family, and they were all looking forward to meeting you both.  Unfortunately, the crash took away their joy when they learned that you would not be joining them. What happened was a tragedy. On April 4, 1975, Operation Babylift was organized by the Americans to help get as many babies and children out of Vietnam as possible. You were up in the air with hundreds of other children coming out of the orphanage, including your would-be brother. One of the plane doors was not securely fastened when the plane took off, and it blew open and the plane lost control. The pilot was able to land in the rice paddies below, about two miles short of the runway, but the plane kept on going and bounced for quite some time before it all came to a complete halt and silence. Smoke from the crash could be seen for miles. Pieces of the craft were lying all over the rice paddies. It is said that the plane broke into four huge pieces and all the children, including you, who were in the belly of the plane did not survive. It is believed that out of the 328 passengers aboard the C-5A Galaxy aircraft, 155 were killed, 98 of those being babies and children. Your crash made news in the media all around the world.

Thirty-five years later, we see children of the Vietnam War, and those who helped you and all these children come out of Vietnam, still trying to put their lives together. Many are still struggling to get past the horror of the plane crash. Many still relive the nightmare. These children have grown up now but still seem to be at a loss as to their identity, where they came from, who their parents were, and why they are here.

It is unfortunate that this tragedy happened. Your would-be parents were expecting you. You would have been happy in this home. Of course, there would always be ups and downs to deal with. You would have moved around a lot, but you would have had lots of brothers and sisters to keep you company. You would have liked this family, Mai, with all of its craziness, with everyone having different interests, different likes and dislikes, different tastes, and certainly different personalities.

Growing up, you would have had to deal with a lot of issues, like, who are you? Who were your parents? Why are you so different from the biological kids your parents have? Would your parents love you more or less than their own? Why did your parents adopt you? Why are you the only Asian child in your school? How will you fit in?

Your would-be parents, however, still wanted to adopt a little girl from Vietnam, and this time it would be a girl with special needs. They were told about a little girl needing a home to go to about a few weeks after your crash. I arrived to the family on April 19, 1975, with the media naming me as a ‘replacement’ for you. It would be years later when I asked your would-be parents about this article. All they could say was that it was just the media, doing their job.

I think in some strange way, Mai, maybe this crash had to happen for me to be adopted and to be able to tell you about this, years later. Maybe I was meant to be here.  But for now, I have returned.

For information about Operation Babylift in the United States, visit

For more information on the Canadian Orphan flights, you can find Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War  by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch at a bookstore near you. 

The Vietnamese Orphan Airlift: An Interview with Tuyết Pham

Posted on July 27th, 2012 by pajamapress


Tuyet in December, 1975

Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War tells the story of one orphan, Tuyet, who was airlifted from Saigon (now Hồ Chí Minh City) at the close of the Vietnam War and adopted into a new family in Canada. Today we are sharing an interview with another orphan, also named Tuyết,who came to Canada in the same dramatic way and who has a story of her own.

How old were you when you left Vietnam?

Although my parents were told, verbally (so they say), that I was born December 7, 1968, unfortunately, none of my paperwork shows that date. In actual fact, all my paperwork had been prepared one year before I left Vietnam, indicating that I was born December 7, 1969.

You must remember that although I was given this birthdate, and I stress “given”, this is not necessarily my birthdate.  During the time of war, many children found in the most awful places you can imagine, left to die, were taken to the orphanages with no paperwork on them.  And those children who were in orphanages, whose lives could not be saved whether through diseases, malnutrition and/or already existing birth defects, who died, their birthdates would have been used for those who were going to be adopted by families around the world.

So, to answer your question, I’m not really sure how old I was when I left Vietnam—possibly 5 or 6 years old.

What do you know about your life before you came to Canada?

There’s not much really that I can recall about my life in Vietnam before coming to Canada.  It was not indicated on my paperwork which orphanage I was at or if I ever was—but obviously I was, because my paperwork was prepared.  I must have been somewhere. There are times when I am doing something and I get flashbacks, like having been piggy-backed either to school or church, or having been given something by one of the soldiers who came to visit at the orphanage.  My mother has said to me at some point (I must have told her at one time) I remember sitting on a soldier’s knee and having a great time—he must have been pretending to give me rides or something—I don’t recall that, but I guess that’s what I told her.

What do you remember about the journey?

Not much. However, I do recall that I was placed beside another girl, either in a van on the way to the airport or on the plane.  I think her name was also Tuyết.  I think she was a little older than me.

You should know that Operation “Baby lift” was coined by the Americans regarding their flights. All Canadian flights were referred to as “Orphan” flights—so I was told by one of the pilots on our flight.”

Did you know these things while you were growing up, or did you have to do research later to discover your history?

I had known as a child that I was adopted and that I had come all the way from Vietnam.  My parents had always been supportive in trying to show me a lot of pictures from Vietnam, or television shows or movies that had anything to do with Vietnam.  They had spoken of the Vietnam War and that I was probably found by someone on the streets, probably left to die, and was taken to an orphanage.  My mother even made my Áo dài (Vietnamese traditional dress), once every two or three years right up until I finished college.  I did do a bit more research later on when I grew older, and when I was more interested and could understand better the history of the Vietnam War.

When did your adoptive parents know that they would be adopting you?

My parents didn’t know they were going to adopt me.  They had at first looked to adopt a boy and a girl from the same orphanage who left before me.  Unfortunately, the plane (C-5A Galaxy) they were taking out of Vietnam on April 4, 1975, crashed within 10 or 15 minutes of being up in the air. The plane lost control and crashed into the rice paddies below.  Everyone in the lower compartment of the plane died, and that included the girl my parents were looking to adopt. The boy, however, survived the plane crash and was sent the next day, on another plane that arrived in Montreal.

My parents were still looking to adopt a girl, at which time they heard about me.

What was it like to travel back to Vietnam?

I made a return trip to Vietnam in March/April of 2010.  I was 39 years old.  I felt I needed to make at least one trip back, in my life, to my homeland to see how much of it has changed and to see if there was anything I could remember of it.

Overall, there were some great highlights to my trip (and some not so great) and I learned so much, but the whole experience was an exercise to see if I could still have fit in with the culture. Everywhere I went, each of my tour guides explained to the curious local people, when they found out that I couldn’t understand their language, let alone a greeting, that I had been adopted into a Canadian family from a very young age. That, I found, in itself, set me apart from the people who were part of my history. I didn’t feel that I had that sense of belonging. There were no memories in any place that I travelled to that I could pinpoint any sense of familiarity. But then again, how would I know?  I was in an orphanage for my whole life there. I had lost that aura of being a Vietnamese.

Are there still unanswered questions that bother you about your past and about the war? What are they?

For the rest of my life, there will always be questions about my past—although it’s always great to tell people, “I don’t know who I really am”.  There will always be questions of, “Who were my parents?” “Are they still alive?” “Where are they now?” “When and where was I born?” “Why was I given up to either be left to die or to be saved and adopted?”  “What were my biological parents’ thoughts during the time of war?” “What is my family background?” “What medical history should I know about?” For now, it would seem that all of these questions will remain buried in the past.

For information about Operation Babylift, a similar initiative in the United States, visit


Another Orphan Airlift Story

Posted on July 12th, 2012 by pajamapress

In Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch tells the story of one child who was flown out of war-torn Vietnam to find a new life and a new family in Canada. Tuyet’s story is not the only one, however. Today Thi-Mai Murphy shares her own experience. 

In April, 1975, an airplane left Saigon carrying nervous aid workers and dozens of frightened babies and children. These were orphans, many fathered by American soldiers and others with disabilities, who were not expected to survive the imminent North Vietnamese invasion.

“No one really knows how old they were,” explains Thi-Mai. Doctors estimated the ages of the children using x-rays; since some of an infant’s 350 bones fuse over time (adults have just 206), they were able to approximate the orphans’ ages by counting their bones. Thi-Mai was judged to be three.

Thi-Mai on arrival

Thi-Mai on arrival

“I don’t remember anything,” she says. “Just stories told to me. We were taken from orphanages to a house near the base, where lines of buses came to pick us up and bring us to the airport. We were rushed in and the pilots only had a small window [of time in which] to take off.”

The plane landed in Hong Kong, where a medical team came aboard to examine the children and remove the sickest ones for treatment. Some of the healthy ones were transferred to another plane bound for England. Thi-Mai continued on to Canada.

Thi-Mai’s adoptive parents didn’t know she was on her way to them. “My parents originally applied for Haiti. They were told adoptions would be halted because Vietnamese children were coming over. Then they were told there were none left (I’m thinking they were talking about the flight that landed in Montreal a week or so before us, but they were already pre-assigned parents before landing).”

When Thi-Mai’s flight landed, an adoption coordinator called her parents and asked if they still wanted a Vietnamese child. They did, and Thi-Mai became one of the family.

It wasn’t always easy for Thi-Mai to feel like she belonged in her new country. “I never really pictured myself [being] adopted until later when I started noticing family pictures. How I was the only dark one in the pictures,” she says. School bullies and the visual reminder of a nearly-all-white community didn’t help.

Thi-Mai’s early childhood will probably always be something of a mystery. A number of the orphans have gotten together for reunions as adults, but what they learn from each other is not always happy. And there are always questions that no one knows how to answer.

Thi-Mai meeting her new siblings at Surrey Place in Toronto

Thi-Mai meeting her new siblings at Surrey Place in Toronto

“There’s always the negative side that no-one delves into…Some lives were destroyed in the process, some ran from their past, some just bubble themselves.”

One concern that comes up frequently is health. “Was I affected by Agent Orange? The Napalm? Do I have cancer? Diabetes? Heart defects?…Some of us  have discovered issues within our bodies that medically we contracted when we were younger. Where and when is a mystery.”

Origin is another mystery. “Many of us don’t look Vietnamese. Some look Cambodian, some Laos, etc.” It is possible that some of them fled to Vietnam from other countries, hoping to be airlifted to safety. Most will never know whether they came as orphans or with families of their own.

The heroic rescue of orphans from a war zone makes for a wonderful story.  It is much more difficult to talk about the identity struggles those orphans later experienced. Thi-Mai is a truth seeker, and she wants to know everything she can about her history—the good and the bad.

Thi-Mai with her new sister, Colleen

Thi-Mai with her new sister, Colleen

“All in all, the conclusion to most [of the orphans] is, ‘we were in an orphanage in Vietnam and adopted into loving homes,’” she says. “Silence is heard from

those who beg to differ.” (Thi grew up in a loving home. Some did not.)

Thi-Mai has never returned to Vietnam, but she plans to. In the meantime, every month she meets with others from her flight, both orphans and volunteers, for Vietnamese food—“Something most of us never had growing up, until we met.”

As for her children and future generations, Thi-Mai will make sure they grow up knowing as much as possible about their heritage—medical, biological and cultural. The connections Thi-Mai has with other orphans and with volunteers who were involved in her flight will help to answer their questions as well as her own.

“My son knows his mom’s past now and more about his background,” she says.

She adds that when friends and teachers ask him where he is from, he talks about Vietnam. “I have an extended family out there,” he says.

Join the Pajama Party!

Posted on July 6th, 2012 by pajamapress

Pajama Party

Pajama Press has a brand new blog! Stop by for sneak peeks, extra content, author interviews, and more!

Intrigued? Here is a sneak preview of some of the posts you’ll be seeing this summer:

So put on your PJs and come on over. It’s a party!

Canadian Children’s Book News calls Last Airlift”Thought-provoking, heartrending and inspirational”

Posted on May 30th, 2012 by pajamapress

“Thought-provoking, heartrending and inspirational, author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s first non-fiction book chronicles one woman’s account of a little-known piece of Canadian history: the Ontario government-sponsored Operation “Babylift.”

In April 1975, South Vietnamese orphans were airlifted from Saigon and flown to Ontario where they were adopted by Canadian families. This military maneuver saved interracial babies (with American blood) and disabled children from being killed… Written from the perspective of eight-year-old Tuyet, who is crippled from polio, the book gives the reader vivid insight into life in a Saigon orphanage where children never see the sky and subsist amidst a soundtrack of warfare. Tuyet’s story reveals not only the privations and misplacement caused by war but the assumptions made by well-meaning people about the desirability of Western customs and middle-class values. Plentiful food, her own room and her first family initially cause Tuyet mistrust, discomfort and even terror.

This simply written but masterfully perceptive story of human resilience and courage belongs on every school and public library shelf. Although it could be read aloud to Grade 3 students and independently by Grades 4 to 8 students (e.g., for social studies or language units), the narrative easily captures an adult. Forchuk Skrypuch, who has received numerous awards for her historical novels, enriches this slender book with photos and official documents. Historical and author’s notes, detailing relevant background to Tuyet’s plight and the author’s research methods, make engaging additions alongside a list of further resources and an index.”

–Aliki Tryphonopoulos

Last Airlift reviewed inBulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Posted on May 25th, 2012 by pajamapress

“…Skrypuch, who originally intended Tuyet’s experience to take the form of a novel, opted instead for a nonfiction presentation as interviews helped Tuyet reclaim many of her early memories and participate in retelling her own story. This biographical approach helps to humanize a war that, for most readers, may seem like ancient history, and the tight focus on the airlift and Tuyet’s first days with the Morrises reminds readers that they are sharing the experiences of an agemate.” –Elizabeth Bush

Click here to read the full review.