Tag Archives: Vietnam

PPBF – The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story

I’m sticking with the theme of boats, as I think summer is the perfect time to read about them. I hope you agree!

Title: The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story

Written & Illustrated By: Thao Lam

Publisher/Date: Owlkids Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: refugees, journey, Vietnam, ants, wordless, kindness

Opening: n/a

Brief Synopsis: A wordless picture book recounting an escape from Vietnam.

Links to Resources:

  • Tell a story about your family or an adventure you’ve had using only pictures;
  • Learn about the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam;
  • Watch Lam’s YouTube video about the making of The Paper Boat and check out the Author’s Note;
  • Make your own paper boat.

Why I Like this Book:

In this wordless picture book, Lam recounts a story handed down by her mother depicting the family’s journey from Vietnam. In the first frames of the story, ants crawl among family treasures and attack food set out on a table. A young girl sees the ants drowning in soup, and she rescues them.

As symbols of war proliferate outside the family’s home, the girl and her parents flee first to the safety of tall grasses, and then, following a trail of ants, to a boat. Before departing in that boat, the girl and her mother construct a paper boat to save the ants who helped them find the sea.

Leaving one’s homeland to seek safety is difficult for children to understand. And depicting the horrors of a sea journey isn’t easy in a picture book. But by focusing on the kindnesses shown by the young girl and by the grateful ants, Lam makes the topic more kid-friendly. In addition, rather than portraying the humans’ journey in the crowded refugee boat, Lam instead focused on the ants’ journey in the paper boat, before returning, at the end of the story, to a reunion of the ants with the young girl and her family in their new home, safe from the soldiers of their homeland.

I especially love the last spread, that shows the family that fled Vietnam in one apartment surrounded by other apartments filled with many multicultural families.

Lam’s colorful cut-paper collages include so many rich details. The Paper Boat will be a wonderful addition to school and home libraries that is sure to prompt many discussions about why families flee their homelands, how they journeyed to their new homes, and what awaits them there.

A Note about Craft:

I don’t often review wordless picture books as I find that I often need text to follow the storyline. But Lam’s visual narrative, arranged in graphic-novel style with several vignettes to a page, reads like a film, unfolding seamlessly. And I think this particular story works better as a wordless one given the many questions the subject matter undoubtedly will raise in young readers.

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!

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!