Last week, I paired two picture books about the final months of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, in honor of his birthday yesterday. In that post, I pointed out the centrality of economic equality to Dr. King’s dream and how he was in Memphis to support sanitation workers. So today, in honor of that aspect of his message, I’ve paired two picture books in which economic insecurity is a central, but unstated, part of the story:
A Different Pond
Author: Bao Phi
Illustrator: Thi Bui
Publisher/Date: Capstone Young Readers/2017
Themes: economic insecurity; immigrants; fishing; father-son relationship; Vietnam; family traditions
Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):
As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.
Read my review.
Author: Karen Hesse
Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018
Themes: economic insecurity; father-son relationship; school custodian
Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):
With lyrical narration and elegant, evocative artwork, Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse and illustrator G. Brian Karas share the nighttime experience of a father and child.
When the sun sets, Dad’s job as a school custodian is just beginning. What is it like to work on a Friday night while the rest of the city is asleep? There’s the smell of lilacs in the night air, the dusky highway in the moonlight, and glimpses of shy nighttime animals to make the dark magical. Shooting baskets in the half-lit gym, sweeping the stage with the game on the radio, and reading out loud to his father in the library all help the boy’s time pass quickly. But what makes the night really special is being with Dad. Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse’s quietly powerful story of a boy and his father is tenderly brought to life by G. Brian Karas in this luminous tribute to an enduring, everyday sort of love.
Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.
I paired these books because they provide empathetic portraits of father-son relationships and are slice-of-life stories in which economic insecurity plays a central, but unstated, role. In A Different Pond, a young boy and his dad go fishing in the darkness of early morning. We also learn, though, through subtle clues, that the family is not only recent immigrants from Vietnam, but that they are struggling financially: the boy and his father seek to catch fish for the family’s dinner, and the father works multiple jobs. In Night Shift, the family’s economic situation is less clear, but the young narrator accompanies his custodian father to a school at night and stays with him through the shift, perhaps because there is no other family member to care for the child then or because the father can’t afford to pay someone to stay with the boy. As the pair work, they listen to a ball game that is “played miles away”, even as the father proceeds to clean the school “from stem to stern”. In both stories, the parent-child bond is strong, the boys are proud of their fathers’ work, and it’s clear that everyone cherishes the time spent together.