A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui. Capstone Young Readers, 2017. 32 pages. ISBN 978-1623708030. Click here to purchase.
A boy and his dad go fishing early one morning, but this trip isn’t just about father-son bonding time:
" '[W]hy do we still have to fish for food?' I ask.
'Everything in America costs a lot of money,' [Dad] explains."
This particular morning they fish in relative quiet; the boy and his father don’t see the Hmong man “who speaks English like my dad and likes to tell funny jokes,” or the African American man with his colorful collections of fishing lures. Dad tells the boy, “I used to fish by a pond like this one when I was a boy in Vietnam.” It’s not something Dad talks about often, his time in Vietnam, and we soon find out why: “He and his brother fought side by side [in the Vietnam War]. One day, his brother didn’t come home.”
|“I get it to light with just one match.|
I get the same feeling from Bao Phi's writing in A Different Pond that I do when I read Matt de la Peña’s Newbery Medal-winning text for Last Stop on Market Street. I don’t make this comparison lightly. There are many distinguished picture book texts published each year, but this one is special in the way it conveys so much emotional depth with such understated grace.
“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 rub my hands together, yawn, and look up to see faint stars like freckles.”
Phi’s attention to detail establishes a real sense of place within the text while presenting an authentically loving father-son relationship.
“Dad hands me a sandwich… ‘Careful of the spicy stuff,’ he says.
There’s half a peppercorn, like a moon split in two, studded into the meat.”
|Illustration detail from Thi Bui|
The best picture books have a feeling to them that can be hard to pinpoint; the word “lasting” comes to mind. For me, A Different Pond has a lasting quality to it that few other books have. Buy it, gift it, and read it to the children in your life.
by Sam Bloom