Wishes by Muon Thi Van

Cover image for Wishes

Wishes by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by Victo Ngai (9781338305890)

This picture book achingly captures the refugee experience in simple words. Throughout the book, the entire world wishes that it could do more to support the fleeing people. The night wishes it was quieter. When the family says goodbye to grandparents, the clock wishes it were slower. As they board the small boat, the boat wishes it were bigger. The storm rages over them and wishes it were calmer. The sun beats down, wishing it were cooler. Eventually, their small boat is met by rescuers in a large vessel and they are taken on board. So the little girl doesn’t have to wish any more.

It’s incredible what Van has managed to do in so few words in this book. One can feel, reading each page, the ache of loss even while there is a potential of a better life just beyond all of the dangers. The emotions are raw on the pages, the profound sadness felt deeply and the entire world trying to give these people a new chance. The author is a refugee whose family fled Vietnam and spent a month at sea. That experience resonates in the simple words that are imbued with a deep empathy and understanding.

Ngai’s illustrations are haunting and beautiful. They show the humanness of refugees, the little girl regularly making eye contact with the reader, her face filled in turn with sadness, dread and relief. The illustrations create moving moments, when the sun fills the page with its searing heat or the first glimpse of rescue is in sight.

An incredible feat of storytelling and art. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Scholastic.