Remona Htoo writes a book for adventurous toddlers, in English and Karen

Remona Htoo didn’t have any children’s books growing up. Now she is posting one of her own.

Htoo was born into a Karen family fleeing the civil war in Myanmar. She spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand before her family resettled in Idaho in 2007. At the time, the 12-year-old girl spoke no English.

Refugees do not choose where in the United States they end up. A large Karen population came to Minnesota, but only about 20 families landed in Idaho, Htoo said.

There she discovered a love for the outdoors and found a sense of comfort from a difficult and culturally isolated childhood. While in college at a small Christian university, she began taking trips to the Sawtooth Mountains, where she fell in love with the scenery of mountains, pine trees, and clear lakes.

“It was me trying to deal with the stress, trying to deal with the trauma that I had. It was a healing mechanism for me,” Htoo said.

Ten years ago, she met a young Karen online who lived in St. Paul: more than 17,000 Karens live in the city and in neighboring Maplewood. The two shared early childhood experiences in refugee camps and formed a relationship. Now the two are married, have a 22-month-old daughter, Emma, ​​and live on the east side of St. Paul.

A well traveled toddler

Htoo, 27, has started taking her daughter on outdoor adventures: hiking and camping in the summer; and tobogganing in winter. The family goes near and far to discover nature. In St. Paul, she loves Hidden Falls and Crosby Farm Regional Parks. They hiked the Superior hiking trail and went to state parks on the North Shore. In the summer, the family hits the road to visit national parks like Glacier, Montana. Emma has already visited 10 national parks, more than many adults.

Although Htoo shared many activities with her daughter, she could not find a book to read to her in Karen.

“After becoming a mom, I realized there were no children’s books in Karen,” she said. “I wanted to read a book in Karen for my daughter.”

So, Htoo took action. She wrote and self-published my little legs, a book she said is about “being outdoors and what your little legs can do.”

my little legs is a story about going out and finding each other, written in English and Karen. Jaida Gray Eagle | Sahan Diary

Emma, ​​​​his daughter, inspired the main character. She wears a traditional Karen shirt in the illustrations, created by local artist Mikayla Johnson. The book is bilingual, with English and Karen script.

There are very few children’s books, or books in general, published in Karen in the United States, and much of what exists is from St. Paul. There are only 32 books published in the Karen language available in libraries in the United States, according to the WorldCat library search catalog.

St. Paul’s Public Library has recognized the need for more Karen language literature. The library system has published three children’s books in Karen since 2015, according to spokeswoman Stacy Optiz. The most recent is Tales for children, a collection of five traditional Karen folk stories, published in 2021.

my little legs targets families with children aged 1 to 3 years. While compiling the story, Htoo delved into Emma’s developmental milestones like learning to crawl and walk. She also wanted to create an outdoor adventure story featuring Southeast Asian characters and inspire curiosity about the Karen people for other American readers.

“I don’t think people think we’re the outside type,” Htoo said.

People of color make up about 20% of Minnesota’s population, but only 5% of state park users, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Many Minnesotans of color feel isolated in outdoor spaces. In response, groups like BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities have emerged, where people can find various friends to hike the trails or go fishing.

Htoo self-published the book and is currently selling the first 100 copies on her own. She also runs an Etsy shop, where she made stickers featuring women of color outdoors. She hopes to add the book to the Etsy shop soon.

Readers can order the book via Htoo directly by e-mail [email protected].

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