A fishing trip is not just a fishing trip in this poignant, semiautobiographical tale.
As a young boy growing up in a Vietnamese refugee family in Minneapolis, Phi would wake up “hours before the sun comes up” to go fishing with his dad. Right from the start, he hints at his family’s dire straits: “In the kitchen the bare bulb is burning.” Readers learn they are up so early because his dad got a second job. And Phi asks innocently, “If you got another job, why do we still have to fish for food?” At the pond, father and son share moments of tenderness. A nod here—when Phi lights a fire with one strike of a match; a warning there—to avoid “the spicy stuff” in his bologna sandwich. Father and son also bond through stories. “I used to fish by a pond like this one when I was a boy in Vietnam,” says Dad. “With your brother?” Phi asks. Dad nods and looks away, a clue to the unspeakable devastation of the war. When they catch enough fish for dinner they head home, Phi dreaming about the landscape of Dad’s home country. Together, Phi’s gentle, melodic prose and Bui’s evocative art, presented in brushy and vividly colored panels and double-page spreads, rise above the melancholy to tell a powerful, multilayered story about family, memory, and the costs of becoming a refugee.
Spare and simple, a must-read for our times. (Picture book. 5-9)