“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.”
With quiet, transcendent words and illustrations, the semi-autobiographical A DIFFERENT POND is a masterpiece of a picture book. The story involves an early morning father-son fishing expedition but the underlying theme is not just about fishing. It is, more importantly, a snapshot of a hard-working family, with Vietnamese refugee parents scrambling to create a life with their American-born children. The sacrifices they make to survive despite their poverty are part of the story but treated pragmatically and lightly, without sentimentality.
It’s also a story of father/son bonding in their activities away from the family, working together without much talking to help the family survive. In the process, the young child gains a sense of accomplishment and responsibility.
Amidst today’s stunningly nationalistic and nativistic chapter in American history, A DIFFERENT POND is an essential children’s book. Unless you are a one-in-a-million full-blooded native American, you are or descend from immigrants. And today’s kids, as was the case with all of us older immigrants or descendents-of-immigrants, will grow up facing the age-old question: Our people were once the despised people, the subject of suspicion and prejudice from those who were here before we arrived. Now that we are here, should we slam the door so as to prevent foreigners who hope to share in the American dream from following us here? Or should we support further immigration, recognizing the value of the hard-working and talented people whom our country has repeatedly attracted?
The book is written and illustrated by two Americans who as children were, themselves, Vietnamese immigrants. The illustrator, Thi Bui, has written a graphic novel about her family’s experiences during the War and its closing days, called “The Best We Could Do.” Her graphic style is on display here and, along with the enchanting text and the beautiful pen-and-watercolor drawings, will draw in the reader.
As a lifelong vegetarian and vegan, I was at first torn about my reactions to this book: enchanted by the book but bothered by its theme about father/son fishing, albeit for a family meal. I greatly appreciate the way that the book portrays the young protagonist’s sensitivity to the difficulties involved in taking the life of another being, in the fishing that constitutes the body of the book.
“‘You want to put a minnow on the hook?’ Dad asks. I want to help, but I shake my head no. I don’t want to hurt that little fish, even if I know it’s about to be eaten by a bigger one. My dad smiles. He isn’t upset with me.”
The story also talks about the memories of immigrants for their homelands and the confused or nostalgic feelings that their children have about those homelands they've never known.
It takes an extraordinary children’s book to get me rhapsodizing about people employing little fish to catch big fish that they can then cut up and eat. This book cut through all those thoughts. It’s a thing of beauty.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
See more of his picks at: http://richiespicks.pbworks.com
32 pages 978-1-62370-803-0 Ages 5-9