About the Holiday
February 14th is all about love! Sharing Valentines, sharing hugs, candy, and fun, and… sharing books! There’s no better way to show a child how much they mean to you than by giving them a book. Unfortunately, many children don’t have access to or own books. International Book Giving Day was established to encourage people to buy, share, and donate books so that the children in their lives and communities can know the pleasure and educational benefits of reading. To learn more about today’s holiday and to find some tips on easy ways to get involved, visit the official International Book Giving Day website.
A Different Pond
Written by Bao Phi | Illustrated by Thi Bui
A little boy yawns and rubs the sleep from his eyes as his dad wakes him even before the sun has risen. His dad has already made sandwiches and packed the car for their fishing trip. As they drive out of town, the streets are silent and a chill tinges the air. The little boy’s father entertains him with stories. As he listens, the boy thinks of the kid at school who says his dad’s “English sounds like a thick, dirty river.” To him, though, his father’s “English sounds like gentle rain.”
Even at this early hour the bait shop is open while the Mexican restaurant next door is dark. The bait man comments that the pair are earlier than usual, and the boy’s father explains that he has to work at his second job later that morning even though it’s Saturday. The little boy carefully carries the bag of minnows, feeling them “swim like silver arrows in my hands.” They stop the car along the road, climb over the guard rail, and gingerly make their way “through the tangle and scrub” to the pond.
As the boy holds his father’s calloused hand, he wonders why they still need to fish for food if his father has a second job, and his dad answers that “everything in America costs a lot of money.” Sometimes, they meet other men fishing at the pond, but today they are alone under the stars that look “like freckles.” While his father sets up their equipment, the boy gathers sticks and rocks and makes a small fire ring to provide warmth.
The little boy wants to help with the fishing, but he can’t bring himself to put the minnow on the hook. His father smiles, understanding how he feels. For breakfast they eat the bologna sandwiches the father made. “‘I used to fish by a pond like this one when I was a boy in Vietnam,’” the dad tells his son. The boy looks into his father’s face and asks if he fished with his brother. His father “nods, then looks away.” The boy knows that his father and uncle fought in the war side by side until the day when his dad’s “brother didn’t come home.”
When the bobber dips, the boy’s father pulls in a crappy and soon after, another. This time the boy holds the fish between his hands “to help guide the fish into the bucket. The fish feels slimy and rough at the same time,” and the boy makes a face that makes his dad laugh. His father is happy because they caught “a few fish and he knows [they] will eat tonight.”
As they walk back to the car, the boy wonders “what the trees look like at that other pond in the country [his] dad comes from.” The sky is just brightening as they reach home and show Mom the fish they’ve caught. She smiles, even though she’s tired, and asks her son to help with the fish before she too goes to work. Their praise for his help in catching that night’s dinner, makes the boy feel that he is growing up.
The little boy waves to his mom as she bicycles away to her job comforted by the knowledge that he, his brothers and sisters, and his mom and dad will all be together again that night around the dinner table. They’ll share crispy fried fish, rice, and funny stories. Then later they will go to sleep and “dream of fish in faraway ponds.”
As deep and quietly moving as a fishing pond, Bao Phi’s tribute to family, parental sacrifice, and the profound understanding of children wrenches your heart with its beautiful and honest language and touching details. Phi uses the fishing trip—which at first seems to be simply a fun outing for father and son, but is in fact an act of survival—to relate one family’s relationship with their adopted country while also delving into the universal bond between children and parents or other adults. Taken before sunup, the trip provides moments—both spoken and unspoken—for the little boy to learn and internalize the stories, feelings, and history of his heritage at a time when his own identity is dawning. The camaraderie at the dinner table is one more time to connect with and be connected to family and traditions old and new.
Thi Bui’s detailed illustrations are washed in the mysterious and hopeful blues and grays of early morning sprinkled with stars and lit with the glow of streetlamps. The pond shimmers with moonlight—a unifying link to that other pond so far away. A No Trespassing Keep Out sign that marks the place where the little boy and his father pull over to access the pond offers an opportunity for readers to reflect on wider immigration and refugee issues. Bui’s captures the nuanced expressions passed between the loving parents who are doing everything they can to provide a better life for their children, and their equally loving children who are dreaming of and learning what that life is.
Extensive notes from Bao Phi and Thi Bui follow the text.
A Different Pond is an exquisite story with wisdom and insight that will impact readers during quiet story times at home and in the classroom. The book would be a warm and welcome addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.
Ages 6 – 9
Capstone Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1623708030
Discover more about Bao Phi and his books on his website.
Learn more about Thi Bui, her books, and her art on her website.
You’re invited to go fishing in this A Different Pond book trailer!
International Book Giving Day Activity
International Book Giving Day Bookmark and Bookplate
Get the official bookmark and bookplate of today’s holiday! With this energetic little character in your books, you’ll always have a fun reading buddy nearby! Poke around the website and find more great bookmarks and bookplates from previous years available for download too!
Picture Book Review