Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho and Brian Deines is the unbelievably true story of a refugees escape to America. We continue this month’s My Take Your Take with this story that invites readers to experience what it is to be a refugee. It also invites deeper conversation about refugees in America with more personal reflection.
Jessica: Adrift at Sea is about a Vietnamese boy named Tuan. His mother tells him that they will leave their home that night. His father and older sister left a year ago, and Tuan understands now it is time to join them. He discovers that only some of his family will leave and the others will stay behind. They embark on their secret journey for America, and Tuan faces many physical dangers and emotional challenges as he struggles to survive on a boat.
Although Tuan faces unspeakable horrors on his journey, this story can be used across many grade levels. The story is simple enough for a younger audience, but there is deeper meaning available for an older audience. Like most literature about refugees, this story provides a challenging discussion on the refugee experience for adults. This story is difficult for children in the United States to relate to, but it can help them understand what refugees do to find a better life. This will also help children see why refugees need to leave their home in the first place.
The illustrations use color to set the tone for each part of Tuan’s journey. Dark hues represent the harshest moments in the story when Tuan escapes from whizzing bullets and watches people burn alive. Color accents moments of hope, such as the discovery of lost family members and the first feeling of safety.
The positive portrayal of the American sailors is important because the negativity surrounding refugees in the news today can overwhelm us. It can seem like we are unwilling to provide assistance to people in need. There are also parents who strongly express their negative opinions on refugees and pass that viewpoint to their young children. If a child reads a this book and sees the struggles of the main character and the heroism of American soldiers, it might encourage them to see another side of the story.
Other books like Adrift at Sea are fictional and highly metaphorical. Although metaphors are great tools for understanding refugees on a more political and philosophical level, this book is a true account of a boy’s refugee experience. Even though readers may have different perspectives on refugees, no one can argue this boy’s story. Students hear about something that is real life, and no one makes up a story to try and teach a lesson. This book is very valuable in a classroom setting for this reason.
Janelle: I am drawn to books that speak of the Vietnam War era and the following years because of friends I have who also came as refugees from Vietnam. Autobiographical accounts, especially from the perspectives of a child, speak loudly to those who enter our country and adds to the fabric of a strong nation.
The warm, realistic illustrations in Adrift at Sea immediately draw readers into the story. The photographs on the opening page are authentic to this story and put real people in the painted figures on the following pages. As the story begins, part of Tuan’s family has already departed to make the boat journey. The concern of family being separated or lost is paramount in his thoughts. As he and other family members prepare to leave, he realizes they will separate even more since his sister is too young for the journey.
As they make their way to the water, the family is separated again while boarding smaller boats. They take them to the fishing boat that holds 60 people for the long journey ahead. The family is fearful when the boat springs a leak and water has to be bailed out. They helplessly watch a similar vessel catch on fire and sink. Tuan hopes for water and milk and tries to rest on the deck of the ship. They sight an American aircraft carrier, and hope turns to rescue.
Adrift at Sea ends here, but the author’s note is quite valuable for those not familiar with this historical era. It explains why so many refugees left Vietnam after the war between North and South Vietnam. The biographical note about Tuan and his family, both then and now, contextualizes this story within the era. He shares that the navy ship took them to an island off Malaysia, an area that among others initially received these “boat people.” They later went to Canada, where the family still lives.
Information about the UN working for resettlement is useful, because readers might wonder what happened after the temporary shelter in Southeast Asian countries. The story ends on the U.S. ship. In the author information there are pictures of the real family, who unlike many others made it safely to their new home.
The political conditions were terrible for anyone to undertake, but many did at this time. Unbearable living conditions motivated families to separate and possibly never see each other again. These stories impact readers to realize the strength and determination of these people, qualities which they bring to their new homes. Readers can value their homeland as a desired place to begin a new life. This book needs historical discussions to be meaningful, and the author’s notes are a good beginning point for readers of all ages.
Title: Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival
Authors: Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Tuan Ho and Brian Deines
Publisher: Pajama Press
Date Published: November 11 2016
This is the third installment of November 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.