The Paper Boat | Wordless Picture Book | Ages 6 to 9 years
Thao Lam's family came to Canada as refugees during the Vietnam War. When Thao started thinking about how to tell this story, she couldn't stop thinking about ants: small, seemingly insignificant creatures who are able to travel amazingly long distances overwater, work hard, and thrive on almost every continent on the planet.
Paper Boat starts with a story inspired by Thao's mother's life: a young girl watches as a bowl of sugar water is put out to attract (and get rid of) some pesky aunts. As the adults around her frantically make plans for escape, she dips her chopstick into the bowl to save the drowning insects. When the army arrives, the family must flee, and in the chaos, the girl and her mother become separated from the others, and get lost in the jungle. The mother gives the hungry girl a bun wrapped in paper, which she then folds into a paper boat. After they eat, the girl spots a trail of ants in the moonlight. They follow the insects to water and manage to meet up with the boat that will take them to safety.
The story switches to the perspective of a family of ants who have boarded the paper boat. Their journey is full of peril. The sun is relentless, the ants are attacked by seagulls, they starve, a storm capsizes their boat, and many ants are lost. The survivors, however, cling to each other, creating a raft of their own bodies, eventually making it to shore.
One ant ends up on a kitchen table, surrounded by food, much like the table from the first scene. But the family members around this table aren't quite the same. The grandmother is no longer there, the little girl has grown, and she's been joined by a baby sister. But they seem happy, and most importantly, they are safe.
As the story ends, the reader zooms out to see that they are but one family in an apartment building full of families, in a busy city full of apartment buildings full of tiny, seemingly insignificant creatures, working hard and thriving. With this picture book, Thao is returning to an earlier format: the wordless picture book of sequential art.
But she has pushed herself again with the artwork--and this story is a collage of simple shapes, clean geometry, and impressionistic washes of colour. Its simplicity belies its great depth of feeling. This is a heartfelt, one-of-a-kind book on every level.
- Written by Thao Lam.
- Wordless Picture Book
- Published by Owlkids, September 15, 2020.
- Ages 6 to 9 years
- 0.6" H x 11.1" L x 8.4" W (0.96 lbs) 40 pages