Half Spoon of Rice: A Survival Story of the Cambodian Genocide

Icy Smith, Author , illus. by Sopaul Nhem. East West Discovery $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-9821675-8-8

Smith (Mei Ling in China City ) provides an accessible entrée into the topic of the Cambodian genocide. Based on interviews with survivors of the Khmer Rouge, this is a fictional account of nine-year-old Nat, who's uprooted from his Phnom Penh home and forced to march to labor camps. “I feel like I can't go any further. But when we approach what looks like a dead body, I find new strength to keep moving.” Nat's present-tense narrative is vivid and matter-of-fact, recounting his separation from his parents and his struggle to survive (he pulls the legs off a frog to eat and later walks over bodies to get to a refugee camp). The friendship between Nat and another young prisoner offers a bright spot among the otherwise bleak details. Cambodian illustrator Nhem debuts with realistic oil paintings whose soft edges and mostly drab hues help assuage the presentation. Disconcertingly, some pictures don't match the text (when Nat rejoins his parents, the text reads, “[t]hey look much older, with white hair,” but they are shown with dark hair). The story concludes with author notes and b&w photos. Ages 7–12. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/21/2009
Release date: 01/01/2010
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