Monthly Archives: December 2017

PPBF – A Different Pond

I kept seeing references to today’s Perfect Picture Book in my twitter feed and lists of picture books about the immigrant experience. I knew it was one I’d like to feature here, even though I figured it’d been out for a while. I was so surprised to learn that it was published earlier this fall.

9781479597468Title: A Different Pond

Written By: Bao Phi

Illustrated By:  Thi Bui

Publisher/date: Capstone Young Readers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: immigrants; fishing; father-son relationship; Vietnam; family traditions.

Opening:

Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping. It will be hours before the sun comes up.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his immigrant father go fishing to provide dinner for the family.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Vietnam, the family’s country of origin;
  • Have you ever gone fishing? Did you catch a crappie or some other fish? What was in your tackle box? For a good listing of what you’ll need for fresh water fishing, including definitions and pictures of the items, check out this article from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for Young Naturalists.

Why I Like this Book:

A Different Pond is a beautifully-written, slice-of-life story that is a mirror into the lives of Vietnamese immigrants in the early 1980s. I loved the seeming simplicity of the story – a boy and his dad are going fishing. But there is so much more that the narrator reveals: they leave before sun-up, as the father is working a weekend job to earn more money; they fish for food, not sport; the dad reminisces about fishing in Vietnam with the brother who didn’t survive the war.

Like Last Stop on Market Street, A Different Pond is a window into a part of American life. Bui’s graphic novel-like illustrations help heighten the sense of immediacy and sense that the narrator, although a young boy, is mature for his age. I especially loved examining the endpapers that feature items that may have been found in a typical Vietnamese immigrant household in the early 1980s.

Both Phi and Bui immigrated to the United States as young children, as they recount in Notes at the end of the book. Photographs from their childhoods accompany the Notes.

A Note about Craft:

Phi’s choice of first-person POV draws the reader into the story, helping her/him feel as if s/he is part of the action.

As with Last Stop on Market Street, A Different Pond is many-layered. At its most basic, it’s the story of a young boy and his dad going fishing. We also learn, though, through subtle clues, that the family is not only recent immigrants, but that they are struggling financially. I found the reference to a “bare bulb” burning at the outset of the story particularly poignant and a wonderful example of showing not telling.

Learn more about Capstone Young Readers, an American independent publisher.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Somos como las nubes, We Are Like the Clouds

While I often gravitate towards books about migration, I feel particularly drawn to the topic now, as I am in the process of a complicated, multi-phase move that has lasted almost two months – so far! And while I have not fled a violent or poverty-stricken situation, I, too, have hopes that this next, hopefully-forever home will be better. As I choose what to bring, and what to donate, I can’t help but wonder how those who truly flee must feel, as they leave behind everything, or close to everything, and take only what they can carry. To those brave souls, the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781554988501_1024x1024Title: Somos como las nubes We Are Like the Clouds

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Pictures By: Alfonso Ruano

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: migration; poetry; bilingual (Spanish/English)

Opening:

Somos como las nubes

Elefantes, caballos, vaca, cuches,/ flores,/ballenas,/ pericos.

Somos como las nubes.

We Are Like the Clouds

Elephants, horses, cows, pigs,/ flowers,/ whales,/ parakeets.

We are like the clouds.

Brief Synopsis:

In this poetry collection, Argueta explores the hopes and fears that cause young people to leave Central America, the perils of the journey, and the arrival to the United States.

Links to Resources:

  • Argueta compares the young migrants to many animals and aspects of nature. What are you like? Why do you think the young migrants are like clouds?
  • Write a poem describing how you felt when you left somewhere and/or arrived someplace else;
  • Learn about Central America;
  • Learn more about why children flee Central America in a report by Unicef USA.

Why I Like this Book:

Somos como las nubes We Are Like the Clouds is a beautiful collection of poems that explore the feelings of the children who undertake the arduous journey from Central America to the United States, often on their own. In an Author’s Note, Argueta explains that he “wrote these poems based on my experiences of working with these young people in El Salvador as well as in the United States.” It’s clear that Argueta “gets it”. His images and analogies transport the readers, so that they, too, feel as if they’ve undertaken the odyssey that thousands of young migrants have undertaken to flee poverty and violence in search of a better life.

This is a wonderful collection to share in families and classrooms. As an added bonus, the Spanish and English texts face each other, rendering them useful in language classes, too. And while the poems can be read separately, they hang together to capture the experiences of those contemplating the journey, those left behind, the journey itself, and the life for those who make it to the US.

Ruano’s paintings range from realistic renderings of the migrants’ experiences to surrealistic, dream-like images. Many are full- or double-page spreads, drawing readers into the realities of the migrants’ lives.

A Note about Craft:

How does one capture the experiences of child migrants, often traveling alone, fleeing the threat of violence and gangs and/or extreme poverty? These are such difficult topics for adults to comprehend. How can a writer make these experiences accessible to children without causing nightmares or overwhelming fear? One way is to soften the blow via poetry, to utilize lyrical language and analogize to the natural world. By doing so, I think Argueta helps children, and adults, empathize with the young migrants in a way a straight telling of the journey perhaps would not.

Not surprisingly, Somos como las nubes We Are Like the Clouds is published by an independent, Canadian children’s publisher, Groundwood Books. On their website, they state, “we are not afraid of books that are difficult or potentially controversial; and we are particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.” In addition to many other “difficult-topic” books, they published Migrant and Two White Rabbits – both about different aspects of the migrant experience.

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This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!