A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond by Bao Phi
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event – a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son – and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Thi Bui’s striking, evocative art paired with Phi’s expertly crafted prose has earned this powerful picture books six starred reviews and numerous awards.

Fishing isn’t always just a fun hobby. Sometimes it’s the best way to hopefully feed a family!

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that gently but realistically showed the reader what life was like for Bao’s family as low-income Vietnamese immigrants. His parents worked incredibly hard to keep their family fed and housed. What made them even more admirable were the subtle signs of the better lives they hoped their children would have in the years to come. The various ways these moments could be interpreted was one of the biggest reasons why I chose such a large age range for this picture book. Young children can understand the basic storyline, but older readers will have the opportunity to dig much more deeply into these characters’ lives.

I adore tales that present a moral dilemma or a complicated topic to their readers but then leave it up to the audience to think critically about it. There were plenty of opportunities here to get to know Bao’s family and the many struggles his parents faced in improving their English and finding jobs that would make it easier to financially support their children. The compassion the narrator showed for this family was quiet but unrelenting. I felt the author’s love for these characters shining through strongly, and it cemented my opinions on the issues he raised quickly.

The final page couldn’t have been written better. While I was expecting it due to everything Bao had shared about his childhood earlier, it was nice to have my educated guess reinforced. This scene made me want to crawl into the story and give him a big hug. He was such a brave and hardworking kid. Seeing how the author acknowledged that was satisfying.

A Different Pond was a beautiful read.

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