The Paper Boat, by Thao Lam, (Sept. 2020, OwlKids), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771473637
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.
Wallpaper, by Thao Lam, (Apr. 2018, OwlKids Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771472838
Recommended for readers 3-7
A young girl moves into a new neighborhood, but is too shy to greet the neighborhood kids playing outside her window. She notices a little bird peeking at her from an upturned piece of wallpaper, and follows the bird on an exciting journey! She releases a flock of birds, wanders into a flower-filled garden, and escapes from a monster as she discovers world after world.
The collage illustration is breathtaking. This is a wordless book that could be used as easily in a storytime as it can in a creative writing class or an art class. The collage artwork is so colorful, so crisp, and so textured, that it appears to stand apart from the page – my own son tried to tap my tablet, seeing if it would cause a flap to lift, or a bird to fly. Thao Lam creates world after world for her protagonist, and us readers, to explore, marvel at, and thrill to. Her protagonist is a child of color and the children in her neighborhood are a wonderfully diverse group, making Wallpaper an exciting journey for all kids. As a librarian in an urban system, I can put this book out on my desk and have the kids in my children’s room identify with all of the children in this book – now, I’ll have to figure out how to explain a possible rash of torn wallpaper to parents…
Wallpaper is a must-have book for collections. I’m interested in exploring this as a book discussion choice, where my kids tell me what worlds they’d like to find if they were in the same situation. And come on: how much fun will it be to have kids create their own collage art? Have magazines and some weeded picture and easy reader books available to cut up.
Wallpaper has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.