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OPINION | READ TO ME: Floating to school across the mighty Mekong

by Celia Storey | March 15, 2021 at 1:51 a.m.
'My First Day' by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien (Random House Children's Books, Feb. 16, 2021) ages 4-8, 40 pages, $17.99. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

“My First Day” by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien (Random House Children's Books, Feb. 16, 2021), ages 4-8, 40 pages, $17.99.

STORY: In the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, the great river covers the land for four months or so during "the floating season," and people live on boats. Children float to school in sampans, little wooden craft propelled using a long, pole-like paddle. Its routine, but no flooded river is safe or tame, and the Mekong has tides and great waves.

We meet An, a boy on his way to school and floating there by himself for the first time. School is far away, and he must paddle through a flooded forest, over submerged fields and across the great river. He passes silent pythons, crocodiles, great schools of glinting fish, flocks of gulls and swimming water buffaloes — but he is brave.

He sees the forest as having hallways and classrooms where animals chatter. The world is a metaphoric school. There's a lot to be intimidated by as he writes his name across the blackboard of the river.

The glorious work of Vietnamese writing and drawing duo Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien makes An's unfamiliar world vivid and distinct, and yet Arkansas schoolkids will recognize themselves in his voice.

To read a Q&A in which the illustrators discuss their methods with Planet Picture Book, see arkansasonline.com/315An. They say, "The main influences of our work are real landscapes in southwest Vietnam. The Mekong River and the melaleuca forest are wonderful and we just draw what we see. We want to introduce the beauty of our country to the world."

Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.

Print Headline: READ TO ME

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