Adrift at Sea by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines.

This nonfiction picture book opens with a bang: our narrator, Tuan Ho, comes from school to his home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to find preparations being made for a journey. His first reaction is to ask his mother, “Are you leaving me now, too?” A year before Tuan Ho’s father had left Vietnam with his older sister, but then-five year old Tuan and his other three sisters were too young to make the journey as “boat people” refugees from Vietnam. Now, Tuan’s mother tells him that he and two of his sisters will be leaving with “Ma” in the dark of the early morning. It’s a secret; no one must know that they are going. And they must leave Tuan’s four year old sister, Van, behind with family members. “She’s too young to travel.”

The family ride in a truck to the beach. There they are chased and shot at by soldiers as they run to board the boat. On the boat, they face even more hardships: a shortage of food and water, engine trouble, too many passengers, a leaky boat. But the book finally ends with a rescue and a tall glass of milk for the relieved and smiling Tuan Ho.

The illustrations in this book, full color paintings, are absolutely stunning. Canadian illustrator, Brian Deines, has outdone himself in two-page spreads that bring this refugee story to life.

The story itself, a slice of life, begins abruptly without any explanation as to why the family must leave Vietnam. Nor does the main part of the text explain what happens to Tuan Ho and family after they are rescued at sea. However, there are some explanatory pages with both photographs and text at the end of the book that tell readers about the history of the Vietnam War and about the entire history of Tuan Ho’s family and their emigration from Vietnam and eventual reunification in Canada. It’s a good introduction to the subject of the Vietnamese boat people for both older students and middle grade readers. Even primary age children could appreciate Tuan Ho’s story with a little bit of explanation from a parent or teacher about the war and the Communist persecution that they were fleeing.

Another good 2016 entry for my impromptu Refugee and Immigrant Week here at Semicolon.

1981: Events and Inventions

January 19, 1981. United States and Iranian officials sign an agreement to release 52 American hostages after 14 months of captivity.

March, 1981. Solidarity, the Polish national trade union, stages a national strike in Poland in protest against police treatment of union activists.

March 30, 1981. President Ronald Reagan is wounded in an assassination attempt in Washington, D.C.

May 10, 1981. Socialist candidate Francois Mitterand wins the presidential election in France, promising a program of nationalization, taxes on the wealthy, and end to unemployment. (I will not draw the obvious parallel between France in 1981 and the U.S. in 2008, but it is obvious–and ominous– to me.)

May 13, 1981. Pope John Paul II is wounded in an assassination attempt as he blesses a crowd in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

June 5, 1981. AIDS pandemic is first reported and becomes known when the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an unusual cluster of Pneumocystis pneumonia in five homosexual men in Los Angeles.

July 29, 1981. Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer marry in a publicly televised wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

August 12, 1981. IBM launches its new “Personal COmputer” (PC) for the home and office market. Because of the success of the IBM Personal Computer, the term PC will come to mean IBM’s personal computer and those computers that use IBM products.

October 6, 1981. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt is assassinated during a military parade in Cairo. Vice-President Hosni Mubarak acts swiftly to take control of the country. The assassination is the work of army members who belong to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization; they oppose his negotiations with Israel.

December 13, 1981. Wojciech Jaruzelski declares martial law in Poland, to prevent the dismantling of the communist system by Solidarity.