A Different Pond is loosely based on the experiences of author Bao Phi. Phi moved with his family to Minnesota from Vietnam as a war refugee in 1975. Phi’s own story, that is detailed in the author’s note, is that of a struggle. A struggle to fit in. A struggle to be accepted. A struggle to make ends meet. A Different Pond captures some of these experiences and the end result is a powerful story about family and the consequences of becoming a refugee.
Early in the morning, before the sun has risen and dark has given way to day, a father and son head out on a fishing trip. But this is no ordinary fishing trip, it is not for pleasure, it is for survival. At the pond, father and son bond over stories - happy and sad. The difficult future ahead and the challenges of living in America where everything is so expensive. Memories of fishing at a different pond back in Vietnam are tinged with sadness at the loss of a brother, a brother lost to the war. As they return home, fish successfully caught for dinner, the boy ponders what Vietnam may be like and the father prepares himself to head off to work yet another job.
This is such a powerful and poignant story that portrays a family’s struggle of trying to make a life in a new country. Not any country, America, a country where the cost of living is significantly more expensive than that of Vietnam. And the American dream this is not. This is a story of people having to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. A story of a father and son who have to fish in the early morning, not for pleasure but in the hope of catching something to eat for dinner. A father whose calloused hands show a lifetime of hard-work. There are plenty of signs that the family are struggling. The bare bulb burning in the kitchen. The lack of possessions. The early morning fishing trip. The small nub of soap that is used to wash their hands. The subtle praise that is given for lighting the fire with only one match.
The illustrations, which are beautiful and evocative, are presented in a mixture of panels, boxes and sweeping spreads. The illustrations of the home are particularly revealing, they are often sparse, portraying a family with few possessions - just another sign of the family’s struggles. The illustrations also provide clues to the neighbourhood in which the family live. A restaurant has a sign in Spanish suggesting diversity and a homeless man pulling a trolley full of possessions indicate a somewhat darker and grittier area.
An utterly absorbing and moving picture book filled with emotion and an all too real struggle. Bao Phi’s melodic prose combined with Thi Bui’s evocative illustrations present a beautiful and gentle portrayal of just one part of the immigrant experience.
Recommended for 9+.