Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Arc Review: A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond by Bao Phi. Illustrated by Thi Bui. 32 p. Fiction Picture Book Series. Capstone Press, August 1, 2017. 9781479597468. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

A young Vietnamese boy tells the story of being awakened in the early morning hours by his father. A bare bulb illuminates a spare kitchen where the wall calendar says the year is 1982. Together, they head out into the darkness to fish. As the boy contemplates the quiet, early morning streets he listens to the stories his father tells and remembers, "A kid at my school said my dad's English sounds like a thick, dirty river. But to me his English sounds like gentle rain."

After a stop at a bait shop, the boy and his father arrive at their fishing spot. They have to climb over a divider and pass a posted, "No Trespassing" sign to get to the river. They are occasionally joined by others, but this morning, they are alone. The boy is proud to be given the responsibility of making a small fire - especially when it lights with one match. He declines baiting the hook with a minnow and knows that's okay with his dad. While they wait for the fish to bite, they eat the sandwiches that his father prepared before awakening him. His father tells him of a different pond, one in Vietnam that he used to fish at with his brother, his brother who never came home from the war that the boy's father fought in.

When they catch enough fish to eat that night, the two wash up and return home. They drive through the breaking dawn and present their catch to mother, who is nearly ready for work. With both of his parents off to work, the boy is left home with his older siblings. He bristles at being called baby brother because he helped catch dinner. 

There is so much to love here. While it is a picture book, the illustrations do have a graphic novel art feel. The palette of dark blues and greens creates a lush night-time atmosphere and contrast nicely with the warm hues of the boy's home. The family is working class and their neighborhood is an urban one. There is a view of the city from their fishing spot. There might be homeless people seen through the early morning light. The mom rides a bike to work. There are many little details to notice in the gorgeous illustrations. This book will provide both a window and a mirror. 

The book began as a poem and reads aloud beautifully. The imagery is lovely and the book's themes are universal from the boy's coming-of-age through the father-son experience to the story of immigrant struggle. I loved the ritual associated with these fishing trips, the camaraderie the boy felt when he and his dad were joined by the "regulars" and how he loved it when they were alone too. The recognition of his and his dad's "otherness" reflected in the comment about his dad's accent was so poignant. The warmth, love and support shown by all the members of this large family is palpable. Finally, the affirmation of the importance of story within a family is important.

Both the author and the illustrator were born in Vietnam. In the Author's Note, Bao shares a picture of himself as a baby with his father, who was the inspiration for the book. He speaks beautifully about wanting to honor his parents' struggle. 

I was all set to make this a Non-Fiction Monday feature until I looked up the publisher particulars and saw the it is part of a series called Fiction Picture Books. I still think it could be used in a memoir unit as a prompt. It not only belongs in every ESL/ ELL classroom, but in any classroom, as it is a remarkable read aloud with enormous discussion potential. It is truly a first purchase for any school or public library and an outstanding example of why we need diverse books everywhere. 

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