A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond

Bao Phi, Author & Poet

Thi Bui, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes: Father and son, Fishing, Immigrants, Refugees, Vietnam

Opening: Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping.  It will be hours before the sun comes up. In the kitchen the bare bulb is burning. Dad has been up for a while, making sandwiches and packing the car. “Can I help?” I ask “Sure,” my dad whispers and hands me the tackle box.

Publisher Synopsis: Acclaimed poet Bao Phi delivers a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son―and between cultures, old and new. A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event―a long-ago fishing trip. 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.

The New York Times has said that Bao Phi’s poetry “rhymes with the truth.” Together with graphic novelist Thi Bui’s striking, evocative art, Phi’s expertly crafted prose reflects an immigrant family making its way in a new home while honoring its bonds to the past.

Why I like this book:

Phi first wrote the book as a poem. I enjoyed the spare and poetic language throughout this inspiring autobiographical story about his first-generation family who immigrated from Vietnam to a new life in Minnesota. Graphic novelist Thi Bui’s stunning and expressive illustrations capture the mood of this remarkable story.

Phi’s story is a beautiful and memorable story about the powerful bond between a father and son as they rise early in the morning to go fishing to feed his family. The story is multi-layered as the father works two jobs to support his family, adjusts to a new and unfamiliar culture and cherishes the time spends with his son. While they fish, the father is transported back to his memories of fishing with his brother in a different pond in Vietnam.  He talks about the war and how he and his brother fought together.

Resources: Talk with your children about your own family immigration stories. We are a nation of immigrants and we all have stories. Share family photographs. This is another poignant immigration story for teachers to use in their diverse classrooms.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee

Alan Gratz, Author

Scholastic Press, Historical Fiction, Jul. 25, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Child Refugees, Immigrants, Germany, Cuba, Syria, Courage, Bravery

Synopsis: Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board the MS St. Louis, a ship bound from Germany to Cuba with 937 passengers. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994, with riots and unrest plaguing her country. She and her family set out on a home-made metal boat, hoping to find safety in America. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by war, violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek through Europe to find “home.”

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Why I LOVE this book:

Alan Gratz had me sitting on the edge of my seat swiftly turning the pages of his powerful and heart-breaking story about three young refugees seeking safety from dangerous and life-threatening conditions in their countries. No matter what their country or culture, these three heroes share a desire for safety and a place they can call home. This is a difficult novel told with brutal honesty and sensitivity.

His storytelling is masterful as Gratz tackles past and current refugee stories and skillfully weaves them together to show their relevancy today. Each character’s story is told sequentially in alternating chapters. Gratz keeps readers turning pages because of powerful cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter. Readers won’t want to miss a moment of the story.

The characters are brave, courageous and resilient 11- and 12-year-olds, who are forced to grow up quickly and make life and death decisions that help their families survive. Josef becomes the man of the family when his father returns from a concentration camp emotionally damaged. Isabel sacrifices her beloved trumpet to purchase the gas needed to power their boat from Cuba to Florida, and she saves the boat captain when he falls out of the boat. When the raft Mahmoud and his family are riding in crashes into a rock and sinks, he makes the painful decision to save his infant sister by handing her to a woman in passing raft. He knows he may never see her again. Courage!

Refugee is well-documented. Even though the three main characters are fictional, their tales are based on true stories. The MS St. Louis was a real ship not allowed to dock in Cuba. The captain, the crew and many passengers mentioned were real. With food shortages in Cuba in 1994, Cuban president Fidel Castro did allow unhappy and starving to leave Cuba for five weeks without being thrown into jail. Many lost their lives at sea, while others call America their home. After six years of war, Syrians continue to flee their decimated country and their chapter in history is still being written on the world stage.

Refugee comes to a resounding conclusion, with the fates of the three protagonists revealed. It’s emotional and there are some unexpected reveals. This timely book can’t help but stir empathy among young readers and help them grasp their role as global citizens. Some readers may see their own family stories among the pages. Verdict: Refugee is a winner that should be required reading in school.

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book that gives detailed information  about the research for each character.  There is also information about What You Can Do and maps that chart the routes of each child’s journey.

Alan Gratz is the acclaimed author of several books for young readers, including Refugee, Projekt 1065, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, and The Brooklyn Nine. Visit Gratz at his website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney

Where Will I Live?

Rosemary McCarney, Author

Photographs provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Children, Refugees, Immigrants,  Children of War

Opening: “Sometimes scary things happen to good people.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Every child needs a home. Children need somewhere safe where they can be happy, eat their meals with their family, play with their toys, and go to sleep at night feeling unafraid.

But many children all over the world have had to leave their homes because they are no longer safe. Because of war and conflict, they and their families have become refugees. For them life is hard and full of questions. In spite of everything, they find time to laugh, play and make friends. And most important,  they have hope that somewhere, someone will welcome them to a new home.

Why I like this book:

A timely and inspiring global story from Rosemary McCarney about what life is like for child refugees who are uprooted from their homes because of war.

McCarney’s use of minimal text directs the reader’s attention to the beautiful UNHCR photographs, which will melt your heart and speak to your soul. They show the remarkable journey the families make. The refugees walk, run, hike across deserts, and ride in carts and boats with the hope of finding a safe place to live. Many end up in refugee camps and tent cities in countries like Lebanon, Rwanda, Iraq, Niger, Hungary, Jordan, South Sudan, and Greece.

Where Will I live will help children appreciate the stability they have in their own lives and raise their cultural awareness of the plight of children worldwide. It addresses tough issues and belongs in every school library.

Proceeds from this book will be donated to refugee children’s programs around the world.

Resources: This powerful book will generate many classroom conversations about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Ask children about what it means to be a refugee. Where will they go if their home isn’t safe?  What will they eat? This is a great exercise in empathy. Children are compassionate, kind and want to help. Everyday they see other kids on the television news who are making a difference. Perhaps Where Will I Live will inspire readers and classrooms to find a way to help refugee families.

Rosemary McCarney is Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament and past President CEO of Plan International Canada. She is the author of the internationally bestselling books: Every Day is Malala Day, Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, The Way to School and As A Boy.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

**I was provided with a copy of Where Will I Live in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Inside Out and Back Again

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Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins Children, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Vietnamese Americans, Immigration, Refugees, Alabama, Resilience

Synopsis from Book Jacket:  For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only know Saigon: The thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.   But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family.  This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Why I like this book:  Thanhha Lai has written the story of Ha, in short free verse narrative, which is exquisitely executed. Her images are both rich and humorous.  It was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is a remarkable  story based on  Thanhha Lai’s own vivid childhood memories of fleeing Saigon and sailing to a strange new country. She vividly captures Ha’s rich and confusing emotional life. In Vietnam she’s an outstanding student. In America Ha is put into a lower grade because she can’t speak English. She feels dumb. There are so many rules in English that make absolutely no sense to Ha. She says “Whoever invented English,/ should be bitten/ by a snake.”  Ha is humiliated after the class claps for her when she recites the ABC’s and counts to twenty.  “I’m furious,/ unable to explain,/ I already learned/fractions/and how to purify river water./So this is/ what dumb feels like./ I hate, hate, hate it.”  This is a story about the resilience of the feisty spirit of a child told with such simplicity.

Resource:  You may be interested in reading an interview with Thanhha Lai when she won the 2011 National Book Award.