A Different Pond

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
A Different Pond Book Poster Image
Exquisitely tender family story of Vietnamese refugees.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Fishing words: tackle box, bait store, minnows, lure, bobber, crappie. How to build a campfire: Twigs need to be dry and set in a "volcano" shape. Mentions of the country of Vietnam and the Hmong people. Signs in English and Spanish.

Positive messages

Refugee/immigrant families are hardworking. You can be a family without money and be loving and supportive. Kids can help their families. Fathers can be supportive of their sons, teach them things, and not ridicule them when they're afraid to do something.

Positive role models & representations

Boy wakes up long before dawn to help his dad fish for dinner for the family. Helps carry tackle box and build campfire. When he's uncomfortable baiting hook with minnows, he expresses it, and dad respects that. He doesn't "want to hurt that little fish, even if I know it’s about to be eaten by a bigger one." Dad works two jobs to support family. Mom works on weekend, too. Dad and mom praise boy for his work. Siblings watch boy, and family eats meal together.

Violence & scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Different Pond won a 2018 Caldecott Honor. It's written by spoken-word poet Bao Phi, whose family came to the United States as Vietnamese refugees and settled in Minneapolis, and illustrated by Thi Bui, also born in Vietnam. The story, based on Phi's memories from childhood, is simple and poignant. A boy gets up long before dawn to fish with his father so that they can catch dinner for the family before the dad leaves to work his second, weekend job. The beauty is in the subtle, evocative detail. This is a moving father-son story as well as an immigrant/refugee story, and a shining example of picture books at their best.

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What's the story?

In A DIFFERENT POND, a young, unnamed boy gets up long before dawn to go fishing with his father, to catch dinner for their Vietnamese refugee family before the dad goes off to his second job. They drive to a pond where they have to climb over a highway barrier and walk past a "No Trespassing" sign. They light a small campfire, and while fishing, the dad shares bologna sandwiches he made, and stories about the Vietnam war. When they've caught two crappies, they drive home, and the boy is left in the care of his older siblings for the day, as the dad and mom leave for work.

Is it any good?

This tender, masterful family story about a hardworking refugee dad and his son focuses on a simple outing that speaks volumes about their lives and the strong ties that bind them. In A Different Pond, author Bao Phi chooses just the right sensory detail to bring the reader into the experience. As they drive before the sun comes up, "Dad turns on the heater," and when they finish fishing, they wash their hands "with a small nub of green and white soap." Phi also has a poet's ear for language. The minnows they buy for bait "swim like silver arrows in my hands." And the boy looks up "to see faint stars like freckles." Phi references Vietnam and the war, giving the reader a glimpse without weighing down the story. "Dad tells me about the war, but only sometimes. He and his brother fought side by side. One day, his brother didn't come home."

Thi Bui's evocative illustrations have a look a bit like graphic novel art. The body language of the dad and boy clearly conveys the affection they share, and Bui's midnight blue night scenes evoke the early hour. She also finds ways to show us that the neighborhood is diverse -- there's a sign in Spanish for a restaurant -- and also that it's somewhat gritty -- they pass a homeless man with his belongings piled high in a shopping cart. This tale is so artfully rendered in text and art, readers will be very glad they came along on this intimate family fishing trip.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the economic circumstances in A Different Pond. Why do you think the boy and his father get up before dawn to fish in a pond that has a "No Trespassing" sign? What indications are there that the family doesn't have much money?

  • Do you think the father and son like spending time together? How can you tell?

  • What examples of other races, nationalities, and immigrant groups in the boy's neighborhood can you find in the text and art?

Book details

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For kids who love immigrant stories and books about dads

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