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THE PAPER BOAT by Thao Lam Kirkus Star


A Refugee Story

by Thao Lam ; illustrated by Thao Lam

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-77147-363-7
Publisher: Owlkids Books

A refugee story features distinctive artwork honoring courage, kindness, and memory.

A child-centered retelling of one family’s escape from Communist-ruled Vietnam, this wordless picture book renders a harrowing experience through clever uses of paper craft. From the outset, a visual motif of ants is key in unfolding the story. Close-up views of a single child are juxtaposed against others of preoccupied adults standing by the same dinner table. No one eats; armored tanks drive past, hastening the family’s departure. Mother and child navigate darkness and heart-stopping moments, becoming lost, until ants appear in the moonlight and lead them to a body of water. As they await passage, mother folds a paper sailboat to distract the child. Later, ants board this paper craft and seem to travel for days in a dramatic montage that feels almost quaint until the page turn reveals increasingly hostile conditions, starting with a parching sun. Only some of the ants survive the ensuing sea gull attacks, thunderstorms, and violent waves, crystallizing for viewers of all ages the perilous journey confronting refugees. When the child’s family reappears, they have settled in a racially diverse metropolis and are seated for a sumptuous meal at home. There is much going on, and children will be compelled to return again and again to digest its story.

A timely, resonant, exceptional model of visual storytelling; the ironic title is a seaworthy companion to “a wing and a prayer.”

(author's note) (Picture book. 5-9)