Archive for February 8th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

The story commands an emotional heft worthy of Allen Say. The esteemed illustrator, Thi Bui skillfully weaves smaller illustrations within larger ones, and never loses the focus at hand.  Acclaimed author Bao Phi’s metaphorical applications (“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”) are achingly beautiful.  Together they forge a current of wistful melancholia, via familial bonding that will linger on for a lifetime.  The picture book, A Different Pond is a collaboration of two Vietnamese born artists, who both were raised in the United States, the male author in Minneapolis, the female graphic illustrator in California and New York.  Rarely has a simple dedication page said so much in tandem, in its tribute to immigrants, working people and the young.  In fact all three of these demographics are at the center of a book meant to connect cultures and the challenges facing the displaced everywhere.  The memories are as deep as those Hew Morgan asserted were at the core of his being in Richard Llewelyn’s How Green Was My Valley.  

The book’s poetic dust jacket cover, replicated on the inside panel and within depicts starry Minnesota darkness at a time well before the waking house, perhaps just about the time the young boy in Dav Pilkey’s Caldecott Honor winning The Paperboy left his home to deliver newspapers.  A boy and his father are seen fishing at a pond during autumn.  This ravishing tapestry well deserves a three-peat during the course of this wholly resonant work.  The beige end papers feature items from their home, including sneakers, Miracle Whip, a teddy bear and an ornament.  The story is narrated by the young boy, who first reveals that that his father, who with his son will be leaving their home at around 4:00 P.M.  A “bare bulb” burning in the kitchen confirms a family hard pressed to make ends meet.  Sandwiches are packed for the nocturnal fishing expedition, intended to secure food for the family.  Dad and son head out in the heated car during a time few cars are out on the road.  Phi’s movingly resonant language is first posed in response to the boy’s observation that a kid at his school likens his father’s Asian cadenced English as “a thick, dirty river.”  But to be his English sounds like gentle rain.  Bui’s bold-lined, paneled art includes intimate inserts meant to capture moods and expressions and set apart such moments within their own dramatic parameters. (more…)

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