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.

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

My Beautiful Birds

Suzanne Del Rizzo, Author and Illustrator

Pajama Press, Fiction, Mar. 8, 2017

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes: Refugees, Refugee camps, Syria, Birds, Hope

Opening: “The Ground rumbles beneath my slippers as I walk. Father squeezes my hand. “It will be okay, Sami. Your birds escaped too,” he repeats. His voice sounds far away. I squeeze back, hoping it will steady my wobbly legs.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Behind Sami, the Syrian skyline is full of smoke. The boy follows his family and all his neighbors in a long line as they trudge through the sands and hills to escape the bombs that have destroyed their homes. But all Sami can think of is his pet pigeons — will they escape too?

When they reach a refugee camp and are safe at last, everyone settles into the makeshift city. But though the children start to play and go to school again, Sami can’t join in. When he is given paper and paint, all he can do is smear his painting with black. He can’t forget his birds and what his family has left behind.

One day a canary, a dove, and a rose finch fly into the camp. They flutter around Sami and settle on his outstretched arms. For Sami it is one step in a long healing process at last.

Why I like this book:

Suzanne Del Rizzo offers a timely, compassionate and poignant story of a Syrian child refugee who flees his beloved home with his family and leaves behind his pet pigeons. Sami’s story is a journey of hardship, sorrow, and hope for a better future. The text is lyrical at times, but mostly it is honest. Conditions are cramped in the tent city, but Sami and his family are safe. But he has trouble adjusting to his new life. He continues to worry about his pigeons, until three birds appear one day and he finds his joy again. This is a turning point for Sami.

Del Rizzo’s exquisite polymer clay illustrations add depth and a life-like dimension to Sami’s story . Her stunning  sunset with vibrant colors of pink, purple and golden hues remind Sami of his sky at home. He even sees his fluffy cloud-like pigeons.

I appreciated that the author focused on the refugee crisis that is affecting the most innocent and vulnerable, children. She doesn’t address political themes in the book, but focuses on the humanity of the situation for children displaced from their homes in Syria. Instead, her story is based on an article she read about a boy who found comfort in connecting with wild birds at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

My Beautiful Birds is an excellent addition to any school library. It is age-appropriate and an introductory story about children who are displaced because of war or natural disasters.

Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end of the book. She talks about the displaced refugees in Syria that flee to nearby countries,  but she also talks about the 65.3 million people who are displaced worldwide.  For more information and resources about the Syrian conflict, visit the Pajama Press website.

Suzanne Del Rizzo has always loved getting her hands messy. She traded her job in scientific research for a career in children’s illustration with her first picture book, Skin on the Brink, which won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and was a finalist for the Rainforest of Reading Award. Suzanne’s dimensional illustrations use Plasticine, polymer clay, and other mixed media to bring rich texture and imagination to her books. Suzanne and her family live in Oakville, Ontario.

*I was captivated by Patricia Nozell’s lovely review of My Beautiful Birds on her website, Wander, Ponder Write.  Check out her website, because she is reviewing a lot of books about child refugees and immigrants stories from all over the globe.

The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus by Rona Arato

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Rona Arato, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 155

Themes: Jewish Refugees, Escape by Ship, Exodus 1947 (Ship), Holocaust Remembrance,

Book Synopsis: World War II is over and 11-year-old Rachel Landesman and her family are determined to find a country where they can build a new life. They have decided to leave Europe on board the Exodus, a dilapidated ship smuggling 4,500 Jewish refugees to their biblical homeland, known as Palestine.

Despite having just survived the Holocaust, the refugees are willing to risk their lives again for a home free from hatred and oppression. But as war ships and soldiers quickly surround the Exodus, they realize their journey will not be easy. While Rachel, like the other children on board, plays games and makes friends, she also struggles to understand the politics and setbacks that plague their voyage. At times, it seems they will never be allowed to reach their new home. Nonetheless, the passengers refuse to give up hope. Their fight to find a place to live in peace will influence history.

Why I like this book:

  • Rona Arato has written a moving story based on the true experiences of 11-year-old Rachel Landesman, her family and the 4,500 Jewish refugees being smuggled to their homeland, known as Palestine. Despite the extreme hardships and the constant threat of the British warships trailing their ship, Rachel remains strong and entertains the children with games and activities.
  • The setting is vivid and realistic. The refugees are packed like sardines on two decks meant for 300 passengers. Rachel and her family are lucky to get a bunk bed, while others sleep on the deck. There is lack of water and food at times, deplorable bathroom conditions, and unimaginable fear and suffering when the five British destroyers attack the ship as it nears Palestinian waters. It nearly sinks.
  • Readers will be captivated by Rachel’s spirit and strong will. The strength in the book is in the bravery, determination and resolve of the refugees to not give up on their dream. They fight the British with fists, sticks and canned goods as the soldiers board the badly damaged ship. When the refugees are turned away from Palestine and put on another ship sailing to France, they refuse to disembark in France.  Their spirit and refusal to give up on their dream is truly inspiring.
  • The author did a remarkable amount of research. Many of the characters in the book are real people who made the treacherous journey on the Exodus 1947 — Rachel, her mother and sister, Captain Ike, second officer Yossi Harel, American volunteer Bill Bernstein, newspaper reporter Ruth Gruber and the many Haganah men and women who organized and ran the movement of illegal ships that tried to carry Jewish refugees to Palestine. Their journey is documented with real photos, bringing the story to life. The plight of the passengers on board the Exodus gained worldwide attention. It influenced the UN to vote for the creation of the state of Israel.
  • In her Preface, Rona Arato, says “that the story Rachel and its brave passengers and crew is especially relevant today because of the world’s ongoing refugee crisis. Millions of refugees around the world continue to seek safe havens where they can live in dignity and freedom.”
  • The author has taken a difficult story and told it with sensitivity for middle grade readers. It is a “Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers” and will be a welcomed addition to any school’s library.

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

Note: Watch for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which will be celebrated on Jan. 27, 2017.  Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld.

Liesl’s Ocean Rescue

Liesl's Ocean 51Go9YPulaL__SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Liesl’s Ocean Rescue

Barbara Krasner, Author

Avi Katz, Illustrations

Gihon River Press, Nonfiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Liesl Joseph, Jewish children and families, Refugees, MS St. Louis, Seeking Asylum, Cuba, America

Opening: “What fun we had last night,” Josef Joseph, said. “It was the best birthday yet.” “You’re very old now, Father, “Liesl said. “You’re 56!” Mother placed breakfast plates in front of them.

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Liesl and her family were enjoying breakfast when two uniformed men wearing Nazi swastika armbands burst into their home and arrested her father. That 1938 night in Rheydt, Jewish businesses were destroyed and synagogues were burned. It was called the “Night of the Broken Glass.” Liesl’s father was eventually released from jail.  Her family along with 1,000 Jewish refugees, fled Germany in May 1939, aboard the MS St. Louis ocean liner, for temporary asylum in Havana, Cuba and later in America. But when they approached the island that looked like a paradise to Liesl, the ship wasn’t permitted to dock. They were stranded for weeks sailing back and forth between Cuba and the United States not knowing if they’d be sent back to Germany.

Why I like this book:

Barbara Krasner has written a compelling story based on the true experiences of Liesl Joseph, a courageous and endearing 10-year-old, who is heroic in her own way. Despite her own fear, she does her best to keep up the spirits of the children aboard the ship. She plays games and reassures them things will turn out okay. Her father, a lawyer, is busy negotiating arrangements with the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Paris, for safe passage to other European countries.

I am drawn to Holocaust stories, especially those involving children. Liesl’s story is one I had a hard time understanding. Why would the United States deny these refugees a home away from the tyranny of Hitler? Since this is a story about a child’s experience, that question is not addressed. However the story delivers a powerful message for older children about remaining brave in the midst of fear and uncertainty.

Liesl’s Ocean Rescue is an excellent addition to any school’s Holocaust collection. Although this is a picture book, I believe it would also serve well as a chapter book for older children. My only negative comment is that I felt the story ended abruptly.

Avi Katz’s black and white illustrations are expressive and capture emotions ranging from the fear during the German raids to the anxious moments of the refugees aboard the ship.

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to learn more about Liesl’s journey and fate. The author interviews Liesl Joseph Loeb at her home. Krasner also provides information on other resources to use with this story. There is a Teacher’s Guide at Gihon River Press.  Visit Krasner at her website.

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.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings

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Richard and Tanya Simon, Authors

Mark Siegel, Illustrator

Roaring Book Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2015

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Kindness, Refugees, Jews, Holocaust, Hanukkah, Blessings, New York City

Prologue: “Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar…until the Night of Broken Glass. His parents put him on a ship to America. He had nothing but an address and a photo of a woman he didn’t know — “It’s your Aunt Esther.” — and his father’s last words to him: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

Book Opening lines: Oskar arrived in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah. It was also Christmas Eve.

Book Jacket Synopsis: It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. Oskar, a refugee from the horrors of Nazi Europe, arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he’s never met. As he walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his aunt’s home uptown, he encounters the sights of the city at holiday time — and receives small acts of kindness from its people, each in its way welcoming him to the city and a life in the new world.

Why I like Oskar and the Eight Blessings:

Richard and Tanya Simon’s heartwarming story captures the best of New York and its residents who welcome Oskar to their city through their generous spirits and acts of kindness– a helping hand, a loaf of bread, a superman magazine, a snowball fight, a pair of mittens, and a friendly wink. It is the essence of what America is about, welcoming immigrants fleeing oppression or seeking a better life.

The story is realistic and believable for children. The characters are diverse. The plot is engaging. Oskar is overwhelmed by how small he feels in such a big city. He is tired and hungry. The sights and sounds are strange and confusing. Oskar is brave and remembers the wise fatherly advice he receives that wraps him in warmth during his 100-block journey to his aunt’s house.

This Hanukkah story, set in 1938, is timeless and should be shared with children no matter what tradition they celebrate. Compassion and kindness towards others is not limited to color, race or culture. This is a story of hope for humanity.

Mark Siegel’s illustrations are hauntingly beautiful. With spare text, the illustrations are expressive and really show the story. There is so much feeling captured in the characters eyes and smiles. The illustrations are uplifting.

Resources: An Author’s Note offers historical insight into the story, a glossary provides definitions of key words, and a map shows Oskar’s walk up Broadway in 1938.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s review of Oskar and the Eight Blessings, on Perfect Picture Book Friday, which will return January 8.

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.

A Long Walk to Water – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Today I am participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which celebrates diversity in children’s literature.  The event is co-hosted by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.  Around 60 bloggers have signed up to participate.  Please visit the site mentioned above to view the many books reviewed.

Long Walk to Water9780547577319_p0_v1_s260x420A Long Walk to Water

Linda Sue Park, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Historical Fiction, Oct. 14, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Refugees, Survival, Sudan, War, Water

SynopsisA Long Walk to Water is narrated in alternating chapters by two 11-year-old children who live in the Sudan two decades apart. Nya’s story is told in 2008 and Salva’s story is told in 1985. Nya spends nearly eight hours everyday walking to a pond to fetch dirty water in a container for her family. She makes the trip twice daily and it prevents her from ever attending school. Salva is attending school when war breaks out in his village. He and the school children run deep into the forest so they aren’t killed by rebels. He is separated from his family and makes a long journey fraught with danger — rebel armies, lions, crocodiles, and desserts — to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He later leads 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Salva is among 3,800 “lost boys” of Sudan who make it to freedom and a new life in America. His path crosses Nya’s in an amazing way many years later.

Why I like this book:  Linda Sue Park gives her readers an extraordinary perspective about the brutal Sudanese conflict. It is a true and gripping story based on the childhood experiences of Salva Dut, an 11-year-old boy from the Sudan, who suffers great hardships when he flees from his home when it is attacked. Not only does he survive such a brutal ordeal, he gives back to his country in a remarkable way years later. Park said A Long Walk to Water made the New York Times Bestseller’s list three years after it was published because “the book spread quickly by word of mouth among teachers and librarians.” It is required reading this year for 7th graders living in New York. Park wrote this book because “I want young readers to know that there are people like Salva in this world, to admire and emulate however they can.” Click here to visit Linda Sue Park’s website. She is also a Newbery Medalist for A Single Shard, and the author of the  Xander’s Panda Party, 2013.

Resources:  You can learn more about the lifesaving work Salva is doing today in Sudan by visiting his website Water for Sudan.  Listen to the interview with Linda Sue Park and Salva.