As many of us plan holiday travel to visit far-flung family and friends, today’s Perfect Picture Book is a stark reminder that people travel for many reasons and under varied circumstances.
Written By: MƯỢN THỊ VĂN
Illustrated By: Victo Ngai
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2021
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: kindness, refugees, bravery, Vietnam, hope
The night wished it was quieter.
The bag wished it was deeper.
Brief Synopsis: A young girl and her family journey from Vietnam in search of a better life.
Links to Resources:
- If you had to leave your home in the middle of the night, what would you grab to bring with you?
- Many children fleeing conflicts leave everything behind. Those affected by natural disasters often lose many or all of their possessions. Discover ways you and your family can help those in need.
- Learn about Vietnam, the country where this story begins.
Why I Like this Book:
With sparse, lyrical text and haunting illustrations, VĂN and Ngai tell the story of a young girl and her family who flee from their home in Vietnam in the middle of the night, travel to the coast, board an overcrowded boat, and journey to freedom in Hong Kong. Because of the brevity of the text (only 75 words, according to a note from the artist in an Afterword), much of the story is told via the illustrations.
Because the text recounts the wishes primarily of inanimate objects, this opens up a tremendous opportunity for adult readers to ask children what they see in the illustrations and why the objects might have wished as they did. For instance, in the scene accompanying the text, “The bag wished it was deeper”, readers see women placing parcels of food in a backpack while a young girl looks on. Might the women fear hunger on the journey?
Readers learn that “The dream wished it was longer” as a mother awakens sleeping children. Why did she awaken them and why leave in the middle of the night, readers ponder as the journey begins.
Particularly poignant, the “clock wished it was slower” as teary-eyed children hug a teary-eyed grandfather, and a dog seems to ask what’s going on.
Thankfully, the story ends with a wish full of hope. You’ll have to read Wishes to learn who made that wish and what they wanted.
Whether read at home or in a classroom setting, Wishes offers adults and children a chance to experience one family’s flight to freedom and better understand the choices made each step of the way.
A Note about Craft:
In an Author’s Note, VĂN explains that Wishes is based on the experiences of her own family fleeing Vietnam in the early 1980s. By leaving so much room for the illustrator, I think she enables readers to experience the journey more fully and to add their own wishes to the story.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!