ISBN 978-1-62370-803-0 $15.95
Reviewed from galleys R 4-7 yrs
Well before the sun comes up, Dad wakes our young narrator to hit the road for a fishing trip. They make a stop at the bait shop and then head out of the city to the shore of a pond, where the boy will cringe at baiting a hook, Dad will tell him some childhood stories, they’ll nod to the regulars who show up, and then head home with some crappie. The outing is not just time for recreation: Dad and Mom are refugees from war in their Vietnam homeland, and fishing is a way to help make ends meet when the parents’ jobs fall short. It’s also a chance for Dad to tell the family history—the death of an uncle, stories of war—and for the boy to learn skills in which he takes pride as he helps support his family in a small way. Despite the tinge of sadness, this tale (based on the author’s family experiences) is quietly uplifting. The family struggles, but it manages, and the shadowy predawn peace infuses the father/son relationship with contentment. The young audience will appreciate Bui’s visual transformation of a gritty urban waterside into a scene of moonlit adventure, but older children of a more thoughtful bent will also discern that many people are awake in the dark on a mission to get by—the owner of the bait shop that “always seems to be open,” the Hmong man “who speaks English like my Dad,” the black man with “his colorful lure collection,” the junk collector loading his shopping cart as the sun rises. In his author’s note, Phi offers background on his father and their fishing trips “for food, not for sport,” which he admits to appreciating more as an adult than he did as a child. That’s something worth talking about.