The New Haven Free Public Library will have a delayed opening at noon on Thursday, April 25, 2024 for staff development.

Take a closer look at the powerful themes of this year’s citywide National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read. Explore the topics of cultural identity, migration, and family with our micro branches and events.


The Best We Could Do is an illustrated memoir by Thi Bui about the search for a better future while longing for the past.

Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, Bui ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, she pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.

The Best We Could explores themes of displacement, migration, cultural identity, family, history and intergenerational healing. Through book discussions, film, storytelling, conversation, visual and performance art the International Festival of Arts & Ideas along with its partners will create interactive and thought-provoking programming.

Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1978 as part of the “boat people” wave of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. Her short comics can be found online at The Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about immigrant detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House.

You can check out a copy of The Best We Could Do in person at one of our library locations or through the Hoopla app as an e-book.

If you are looking to read books with related subjects, be sure to check out our micro branches. Click the links below to discover titles that can be checked out in person or a selection of e-books available online 24/7.

Access additional resources provided by the National Endowment for the Arts here.

Young Minds and Teen Picks

Our Young Minds micro branch includes a selection of books for children and teens that dive into the themes of immigration and finding home.

Finding Papa by Angela Pham Krans and illustrated by Thi Bui is this year’s companion read. It is a picture book based on the author’s own experience which follows young Mai and her mother’s perilous journey from Vietnam to America to find Papa—who left ahead of them to start a better life for their family. 

You can borrow Finding Papa in-person.

Events at NHFPL

NEA Big Read Kick-Off Party!

Wednesday, April 3 at 5:30 pm | Stetson Branch

Join us for our 2024 NEA Big Read Kick Off celebrating Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do! Meet us at the Stetson Branch Library for activities, grab your complimentary copy of the book, and mingle with our partners. It’s an evening of community, literature, and camaraderie!

Adult Events

Fair Haven Book Club: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Fair Haven Branch
Monday, April 8, 2-3 pm

Join the club for a discussion of The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. This graphic memoir, which is this year’s city-wide selection of the NEA Big Read program, concerns her family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam and their search for a better future while longing for what they once had. Copies available from the library. 

NEA Big Read: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Mitchell Branch
Monday, April 8, 5:30-7:30 pm

Join us at the Mitchell Library as we help The International Festival of Arts and Ideas celebrate the book chosen for this year’s Big Read: The Best We Could Do. This event will feature Denise Keyes Page of Ubuntu Storytellers.

Exploring Vietnamese Block Printing

Ives Main Library | Tinker Lab
Wednesday, May 1, 6-7 pm

In honor of her heritage, we’ll explore the traditional Vietnamese art of wood block printing. Learn about the history of traditional Vietnamese Printing, and then use materials in Ives Squared to create your own custom print to take home with you!

Free Friday Films

Ives Main Library

Friday, May 3, 2-4 pm: Shun Li and the Poet / Io sono Li is about how a Chinese barmaid (Tao Zhao) and a Slavic fisherman (Rade Serbedzija) find friendship and more in an Italian fishing village. (Not Rated)

Friday, May 10, 2-5 pm: Iraqi Odyssey is a 3D Documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir which pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation. (Not Rated)

Friday, May 17, 2-4 pm: The Journey of Vaan Nguyen is a documentary about a girl named Vaan who grows up in Israel after her family’s escape to Israel in 1975 following the fall of Saigon. She decides to follow her father back to Vietnam when he goes to reclaim his farm in the jungle. (Not Rated)

Friday, May 24, 2-4 pm: Under the Same Moon is about a young Mexican boy who illegally travels across the border to search for his undocumented mother living and working in the U.S after his grandmother passes away. (Rated: PG-13)

Friday, May 31, 2-4 pm: Pushing the Elephant is a documentary about a mother and daughter who reunite after being separated during civil war in the Congo. (Not Rated)

Urban Life Experience Book Discussion: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Wilson Branch
Saturday, June 1, 12-1:30 pm

New Readers Welcome Saturdays at 12 noon at Wilson Library. This month we discuss The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. This book has been selected for the City of New Haven’s NEA Big Read.


The Best We Could Do Book Talk

Ives Main Library | Teen Center
Saturday, June 8, 1-2 pm

Join Teen Librarian Emily to discuss the NEA’s Big Read, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. Open to New Haven teens! Snacks and a zine about the book will be provided.


Storytime for Welcoming and Celebrating Each Other

Fair Haven Branch
Wednesday, April 24, 4:30-5 pm

Featuring books and songs focused on immigration, inclusion, and celebrating all in our community.

Chinese Immigration Story Time

Ives Main Library
Saturday, May 11, 11 am-12 pm

Join Yale Repertory Theatre for a special story time and kite-making activity. We will be reading Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung and Chris Sasaki, which tells the story of Chinese-American illustrator and kite-maker Tyrus Wong. Inspired by Wong’s work as a kite-maker, each child will get a chance to construct and take home their own paper kite. 

Celebrating Stories and Culture

Mitchell Branch
Wednesday, May 15, 4-5 pm

Join us for a special story time featuring books and songs focused on immigration, inclusion, and celebrating the diversity in our community. We will feature stories highlighting the immigrant experience and hold space for families to share their own stories. 

Celebrating Stories and Culture

Stetson Branch
Saturday, May 18, 10 am-12 pm

Join us for a special story time in partnership with the NEA Big Read. We will feature stories highlighting the immigrant experience and hold space for families to share their own stories.

Don’t Miss any of the NEA Big Read Events Happening Across New Haven!

Be sure to check out the Arts & Ideas website for a calendar of the NEA Big Read events relating to The Best We Could Do happening from April to June! The NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.