Inspired by her own family’s refugee journey from Vietnam to Canada, Thao Lam’s newest book, The Paper Boat is an intensely personal narrative, entwined with a story about an ant colony. The wordless story is told through gorgeous collage art in shades of gray with moments of bright color: a spotlight, the red of an army flag, green of military uniforms, or the pink of a paper boat struggling to stay afloat in tumultuous waters. At home in Vietnam, a young girl rescues ants from bowls of sugar water set out to trap them. Later, as the girl and her family flee from their war-ravaged home, the ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will help them escape. As they board, the girl folds a paper boat and drops it into the water; the ants climb on, setting out on their own journey. The two parallel narratives tell the story of a daring escape and the hope of starting life in a new, safe, land. Thao Lam’s author’s note provides deeper context for the story. Endpapers depict newspaper headlines from the Vietnam War and subsequent flight of the refugees.
A moving, thoughtful story that brings home the pain of leaving home and the hope of starting over. The Paper Boat has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. (And it should be nominated for a Caldecott, just sayin’.) Publisher OwlKids has an excellent educator and parent’s guide available for free download.