Kai Cheng Thom’s From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea is an exquisitely rendered picture book about gender and identity. It tells the story of Miu Lan, a child who can’t decide what to be: boy or girl, bird or fish, tree or star. The child keeps changing from one exotic species to another, with a kaleidoscope of feathers, antlers, wings, tails, and fur. Every night the mother rocks Miu Lan to sleep, singing a song of all-encompassing, unconditional love for her magical, expressive child – who can change from a bird to a fish to a puppy all in one day.
Once school starts, Miu Lan begins to understand how being different from other children can make one feel left out and lonely. Yet, trying to blend in leads to more unhappiness. The confusion, anger, and pain Miu Lan feels are overwhelming. Yet every night, the mother still sings the same song of love to her unique and wonderful child.
The illustrations, by Wai-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching, are saturated with colour and sparkling with invention: huge moons and suns, star-bespeckled skies, smiling bathtubs and kettles. Miu Lan romps through this enchanted world, accompanied by a bird with antlers and a dog with a whale’s tail and rabbit ears.
Thom’s gentle, rhythmic text resonates like a wise old fairy tale that has been told and retold, and like the mother’s song, passed down from one generation to the next. The heart of the book is this loving song, which teaches the child to be true to oneself and find the courage and strength to face the larger world. Non-binary and binary children alike will recognize their own experiences in Miu Lan’s struggles with acceptance and belonging. The story also provides a point of reference for young readers to better understand the issues of gender identity whenever they may encounter them.