Inspired by her own family’s refugee journey from Vietnam to Hong Kong, Văn’s (If You Were Night) spare picture book, powerful in its deliberate simplicity, follows a black-haired, pale-skinned child as they, their guardian, and two younger siblings join other asylum seekers for a perilous maritime voyage. In a third-person voice, Văn anthropomorphizes objects, relaying their wishes: “The dream wished it was longer,” one spread reads, as a balding, mustached guardian holds the protagonist close, and a guardian with a bun rouses the second child to dress them. “The clock wished it was slower,” the subsequent pages read, as the two children tearfully hug their mustached guardian goodbye. The narrative continues as the now family of four make their way onto the boat and beyond. A final-act switch to first-person perspective drives home the journey’s personal nature. Intricate, lissome fine-lined art by Ngai (Dazzle Ships) recalls classical Asian compositions, Japanese woodblock prints, and an evocative sensibility in a gradated, surrealistic color palette. A seamless interweaving of elegant prose and atmospheric art marks this affecting immigrant narrative. Back matter includes heartfelt author’s and illustrator’s notes. Ages 4–8. (May)
Correction: A previous version of this review misquoted the book's text.
Reviewed on : 05/10/2021 Release date: 05/04/2021 Genre: Children's