Review of A Different Pond

A Different Pond
by Bao Phi; illus. by Thi Bui
Primary, Intermediate    Capstone    32 pp.    g
8/17    978-1-62370-803-0    $15.95
e-book ed.  978-1-62370-804-7    $9.95

Hours before sunrise, a father and son go fishing for that night’s meal. So begins this powerfully understated picture book, which shifts the focus of the refugee narrative from the harrowing journey to the reality awaiting the family members once they reach their destination (in this case, the United States). With evocative detail and a keen ear for metaphor (“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”; “I feel the bag of minnows move. They swim like silver arrows in my hands”), Phi hints at the family’s joys and struggles. And whether it’s tentative discussion of “the war” and the father’s childhood in Vietnam or a calendar showing the year 1982, the book is filled with cultural specificity. Bui (whose illustrated memoir for adults The Best We Could Do was also published this year) sets the mood with expressive brushwork and colors that alternate between warm oranges and reds in the home and cool blues in the chilly pre-dawn air. By the end, it’s clear that the small struggles that make up everyday life are the very things that bind the family together. The father and son return home that morning with a fish but, more importantly, a fond memory that will help make this new country feel like home. The ponds may be different here, but the water reflects life just the same.

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.



Minh Lê

Minh Lê's most recent books are Enlighten Me (LB Ink/Little, Brown) and Built to Last (Knopf, 2024). He served on the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee.

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