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Winter 2017 Publishers’ Preview: Picture Books: Five Questions for Bao Phi

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Preview: Picture Books, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

Sponsored by
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Poet-activist Bao Phi makes the move to picture books with A Different Pond, a contemplative semi-autobiographical vignette of a Vietnamese American boy’s pre-dawn fishing trip with his father.

Photo: Anna Min.

1. Your first picture book! What’s it like seeing pictures set to your words?

When I was a child, I drew my own comic books. But as an adult, I’ve been working solely with words for decades. Seeing illustrator Thi Bui’s beautiful images was a powerful, breathtaking experience.

2. What brought you from poetry to picture books?

Much of it was wanting my child to read books by authors and with characters that are as diverse as her life is. There seem to be few picture books that deal directly with the struggles of Southeast Asian refugees in America. For Southeast Asian kids, I hope it’s affirming and empowering to see a family that might resemble their own. To those who are not Southeast Asian, I hope it’s a window onto a life experience they can learn from.

3. Is your daughter curious about your childhood?

She is curious about a great many things, including my childhood. She knows that we come from war and struggle, but also survival and creativity. My parents were very forthcoming with me about the war, about the country we were forced to flee, about the beautiful things they remember and the terrible things they survived. It’s a good thing they were, because there simply is not a lot of Asian American history in our educational system — let alone histories about the Vietnam War that include Southeast Asian lives. I want my child and her friends to have more than we did in that regard.

4. Do you enjoy fishing?

Honestly, I’m one of the few people in my family who does not.

5. You were a baby when you came to this country from Vietnam. Do you still feel like an immigrant?

A refugee, yes. Every day of my life I’ve been made aware that I am not from here at best, and do not belong here at worst. The refugee experience is very racialized, and we face institutional racism, discrimination, and microaggressions. My daughter, who was born here, has already shown signs that she has been made to feel “other.” When we spoke about defending DACA, for instance, she cried because she thought she was going to be deported. I told her that we have a responsibility to stand up for all oppressed people, to make a better world for us all.

Sponsored by
Capstone

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Comments

  1. I enjoyed hearing a more personal interview from Bao Phi and recently read A Different Pond and loved it. I taught middle school students in a core classroom for a long time, and know that if I was still teaching I would love to share it with them and encourage their own writing of stories from their parents. Also, I would love for them to understand that what seems like a simple story holds many layers. Thank you and thank the illustrator for the wonderful illustrations.

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