Friday, July 28, 2017

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

In an age that is seeing an increase in the number of refugees fleeing their countries seeking safety comes a simple, but powerful semi-autobiographical story from poet Bao Phi. Phi, his parents and siblings were refugees from Vietnam who came to the United States in 1975. And as with most refugees, those early years were difficult. 

Early one morning before the sun has even risen, Phi's father wakes up his son from a sound sleep to go fishing. His father has already made bologna sandwiches and packed up their fishing gear. After loading the car, they stop at the bait store and then on to the pond. Sometimes when they fish, they run into other fishermen - usually a Hmong man, a black man. This morning, they are alone.

But these fishing trips is not done as a fun sport. Even though his father has taken a second job in order to support his family, any fish caught will help feed them. As his dad explains, “Everything in American costs a lot of money.”

But fishing is also an opportunity for father and son to bond. Phi’s father is gentle, protective, and encouraging with his son. When Phi doesn’t want to bait the fishing hook with live minnows, his dad just smiles, and there is a compliment when Phi builds a fire, lighting it with one match.

As they eat their sandwiches, his dad tells Phi about fishing with his brother in a different pond in Vietnam, about fighting in the Vietnam war with his brother who didn’t return from the war. After catching two large fish, they head home, knowing there will be dinner on the table that night. 

This may be Bao Phi’s first children’s book, but he has written one that is destined to become a classic. Phi is a poet, and his prose lyrical, really capturing the difficulties faced by immigrants when they migrate to another country, and have very little money and resources. A close reading reveals just some of the things refugees must do to survive beside working more than one job, or fishing for dinner. Notice the No Trespassing sign by the fishing pond, the mention of the callouses on Phi’s father's hands indicating hard, physical labor, the mention of his dad’s broken teeth and his poor English and what these things tell us about his life. Their life may be hard, and yet, the last page shows a happy family sitting about the dinner table. 

Complimenting Phi's story are Thi Bui’s illustrations. She has used both graphic novel panels and full page illustrations done in deep blues and browns and beiges to capture the early morning light and highlight father and son. 

Sometimes, these days, I feel like my spirit needs a little renewing and then I read this book. It certainly gave me a new appreciation of what my own father went through when he came to this country. 

A Different Pond is a beautiful, elegantly written story about the importance of family, of hope, of tradition, and the challenges faced by refugees.  

A Different Pond will be available August 1, 2017.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Capstone 

1 comment:

  1. I've been hearing nothing but praise for this book, it just sounds so quietly beautiful and gently moving. A real treasure.


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