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Graduate student's thesis project yields children's book

RELEASED: April 8, 2010

Pakou Vang
 book cover for The Tiger in the Village
UW-Eau Claire graduate student Pakou Vang has published the book "The Tiger in the Village" while working on her master's thesis.

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate student Pakou Vang did not set out to publish a children's book, but during the course of working on her master's thesis she has done just that.

"The Tiger in the Village" was released in December 2009 and is available for sale through lulu.com. The book is based on a Hmong folk tale Vang's grandmother, Mee Moua, told her and that Vang modified for a research study to test her theory about the importance of story organization to well-told narratives. Her intention was to put the story in quality book form so it would be comparable to another book used in the study.

Vang's thesis project was inspired by a student-faculty research project she completed as an undergraduate in UW-Eau Claire's communication sciences and disorders department. Vang's group compared oral stories from Native American and Hmong culture with traditional European North American stories to determine the story grammar elements included.

"We know that children from other cultures may have greater difficulty in school and a lot has to do with English as a second language issues," said Dr. Marie Stadler, associate professor and graduate program coordinator in communication sciences and disorders. "Having children tell stories from their own culture is indicative of their storytelling skills and language development. We explored whether simple changes to the narrative could make a difference."

Stadler, Vang and two other student researchers concluded that stories from different cultures vary in their inclusion of important elements of story grammar. Such elements include setting, internal plans, problem and resolution.

Among the stories they analyzed was Moua's. That's when "The Tiger in the Village" became so important to Vang. The story is about a tiger who enters a community and how the people of the village work together to get rid of it. Moua retold the story to Vang using Hmong story cloth — fabric embroidered with images that tell a story. This ancient oral tradition chronicles Hmong culture and history.

"The findings of the undergraduate research led to my decision to pursue a thesis," said Vang. "But my grandmother is truly the inspiration for this project. She passed away in August 2008 and this is my part in carrying on her legacy. She was a wonderful person."

Vang's thesis project looked at the way school-age Hmong students retell narratives using a Hmong story and a European North American story. In what is termed as "story retell tasks" Vang looked for key elements of a complete story: setting, problem, and ending.

"I wanted to see what the impact of cultural differences might be on the way these Hmong students retold the stories," she said. "Overall, the Hmong story retells were more complete and complex."

Vang, who will graduate in May with a master's degree in communication sciences and disorders, said her thesis was far more work than releasing a children's book, but she recognizes the significance of the achievement.

"I really had to draw on others' strengths to get it all accomplished. I am so thankful for those who offered suggestions, edited, illustrated, photographed and organized the pages."

Vang secured a grant from UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs to fund the work of artist and friend Jesse Edgington.

For more information, contact Pakou Vang at vangpw@uwec.edu.

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RD/DW

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