CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 6 . . . . October 14, 2016
Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival tells the true story of Tuan Ho and his family escaping Vietnam in 1981. They escape in the middle of the night, dodging bullets but making it to the skiff. They are on the leaking skiff for three days when the motor dies. Three perilous days later, they are rescued by an American aircraft carrier.
Brian Deines, who also illustrated the popular book A Bear in War, created beautiful oil on canvas illustrations for the book. The colours of the illustrations are bight and vibrant. Other highlights of the book are the personal photographs, biography of Tuan's family, map, and historical note which bookend the narrative of the story.
Known at the time in popular media as "boat people," Adrift at Sea is one poignant story of the many who escaped to freedom from the oppressive regime in Vietnam. The issue I have with this book is that it contains no context in the narrative for young readers about why Tuan and his family are leaving Vietnam. The story is told simply, in the perspective of a young boy, and the picture book appears to be targeting the 6-9 age bracket. Aside from the title, no date or setting for the book is given in the story. In my opinion, the context-setting information in the front and end papers appears to be written for a higher age range than the story, itself. While the themes of freedom and feeling safe are universal, young readers would likely need a significant amount of background knowledge from an adult about the time and context to make sense of the plot.
Adrift at Sea is an important addition to Canadian picture book market. With appropriate context set for young readers, this book would be valuable in home, school, and public libraries.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON.
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