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Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival

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It is 1981. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fishing boat overloaded with 60 Vietnamese refugees drifts. The motor has failed; the hull is leaking; the drinking water is nearly gone. This is the dramatic true story recounted by Tuan Ho, who was six years old when he, his mother, and two sisters dodged the bullets of Vietnam's military police for the perilous chance of It is 1981. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fishing boat overloaded with 60 Vietnamese refugees drifts. The motor has failed; the hull is leaking; the drinking water is nearly gone. This is the dramatic true story recounted by Tuan Ho, who was six years old when he, his mother, and two sisters dodged the bullets of Vietnam's military police for the perilous chance of boarding that boat. Told to multi-award-winning author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and illustrated by the celebrated Brian Deines, Tuan's story has become Adrift At Sea, the first picture book to describe the flight of Vietnam's Boat People refugees. Illustrated with sweeping oil paintings and complete with an expansive historical and biographical section with photographs, this non-fiction picture book is all the more important as the world responds to a new generation of refugees risking all on the open water for the chance at safety and a new life.


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It is 1981. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fishing boat overloaded with 60 Vietnamese refugees drifts. The motor has failed; the hull is leaking; the drinking water is nearly gone. This is the dramatic true story recounted by Tuan Ho, who was six years old when he, his mother, and two sisters dodged the bullets of Vietnam's military police for the perilous chance of It is 1981. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fishing boat overloaded with 60 Vietnamese refugees drifts. The motor has failed; the hull is leaking; the drinking water is nearly gone. This is the dramatic true story recounted by Tuan Ho, who was six years old when he, his mother, and two sisters dodged the bullets of Vietnam's military police for the perilous chance of boarding that boat. Told to multi-award-winning author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and illustrated by the celebrated Brian Deines, Tuan's story has become Adrift At Sea, the first picture book to describe the flight of Vietnam's Boat People refugees. Illustrated with sweeping oil paintings and complete with an expansive historical and biographical section with photographs, this non-fiction picture book is all the more important as the world responds to a new generation of refugees risking all on the open water for the chance at safety and a new life.

30 review for Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I love immigrant stories probably because I grew up in an immigrant family. Adrift At Sea is about Tuan Ho's escape from Vietnam when he was a boy of six. The story is told through the eyes of Tuan and we feel for him as he experiences fear, a family torn apart and days adrift at sea with little drinking water. The story has a positive ending, of course, but it brings to life what thousands of Vietnamese people went through in the early 1980s when they tried to escape. My 12 year-old son read thi I love immigrant stories probably because I grew up in an immigrant family. Adrift At Sea is about Tuan Ho's escape from Vietnam when he was a boy of six. The story is told through the eyes of Tuan and we feel for him as he experiences fear, a family torn apart and days adrift at sea with little drinking water. The story has a positive ending, of course, but it brings to life what thousands of Vietnamese people went through in the early 1980s when they tried to escape. My 12 year-old son read this story too and felt saddened by Tuan harrowing escape. He picked up on the fact that another boat caught fire and those in it did not escape. This opened up a great discussion on world events and how in some countries people are still trying to escape by boat. I think that it's important to teach our young ones about what children in other countries go through. These are the stories of our country's immigrants. The illustrations are simply beautiful and the style perfect for this dramatic story. The last illustration in particular when the American soldier gives Tuan a glass of milk is a perfect way to end this nonfiction book. I also enjoyed the photographs of Tuan and his family when they were young in Vietnam to those of him today as a man with his wife and children. More factual information is accompanied with these photos. I highly recommend this book as a teaching tool and feel that it should be in every library. It's books like this that will make history come alive for our next generation of children.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Krista the Krazy Kataloguer

    Skrypuch based this story on the real escape of a Vietnamese boy and his family from Vietnam in the 1980s. Back then you heard about the "boat people" on the news, but you really didn't know what they suffered to get away. This book makes it clear. I teared up at the end, when Tuan finally gets the glass of milk he's so thirsty for, and the American sailors are so friendly and kind to him. I love that fact that Skrypuch includes pictures of the actual family, especially the ones at the end where Skrypuch based this story on the real escape of a Vietnamese boy and his family from Vietnam in the 1980s. Back then you heard about the "boat people" on the news, but you really didn't know what they suffered to get away. This book makes it clear. I teared up at the end, when Tuan finally gets the glass of milk he's so thirsty for, and the American sailors are so friendly and kind to him. I love that fact that Skrypuch includes pictures of the actual family, especially the ones at the end where you can see how they thrived in their new country, Canada. Before anyone complains about refugees taking away jobs, etc., they should read books like this. Maybe then they would welcome them with open arms. Highly recommended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gary Anderson

    Adrift at Sea is the true story of Tuan Ho, a young Vietnamese boy who escaped his country’s military regime in 1981 and became part of the wave of “boat people,” refugees hoping to arrive in America. As author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch relates how Tuan and members of his family survived their escape and a flimsy boat with a motor that eventually dies, she keeps the drama intact without crossing the line into being terrifying. My only quibble with the text is the awkward present-tense construction Adrift at Sea is the true story of Tuan Ho, a young Vietnamese boy who escaped his country’s military regime in 1981 and became part of the wave of “boat people,” refugees hoping to arrive in America. As author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch relates how Tuan and members of his family survived their escape and a flimsy boat with a motor that eventually dies, she keeps the drama intact without crossing the line into being terrifying. My only quibble with the text is the awkward present-tense construction in the first sentence: “When I come home from school today, a jug of water and bags of dried food sit by the door.” (Delete the word today, and the sentence works fine.) The artwork of Brian Deines is exquisite. His pastels display the sea’s enormity and beauty without undercutting the threatening situation. The colors somehow convey a sense of hope that I found comforting. The front and back matter complete Tuan’s story as it relates how his refugee family found a home and life in America.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alex Baugh

    The plight of refugees have been in the news a lot these days because of the war in Syria. As more and more borders are closed to them, it might be a good time to remember another group of refugees who arrived on North America's shores and have contributed so much to their adopted country. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and the communist government took over South Vietnam, daily life became so difficult and unbearable that families were willing to risk escaping their country in rickety boats The plight of refugees have been in the news a lot these days because of the war in Syria. As more and more borders are closed to them, it might be a good time to remember another group of refugees who arrived on North America's shores and have contributed so much to their adopted country. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and the communist government took over South Vietnam, daily life became so difficult and unbearable that families were willing to risk escaping their country in rickety boats not made for long sea voyages. But these boats were the only way out, unless you were rich. In the Ho family, six year-old Tuan's father and older sister Linh were had escaped Vietnam in 1980 and made their way to Canada. Now, in 1981, it is Tuan's time to escape with this mother and two sisters, Lan, 9. and Loan, 10. His youngest sister Van, 4, would have to be left behind for now. She is just too young for the trip. No one, not even the neighbors must know what Tuan and his family are up one dark night as they sneak out of the house. Their journey to freedom begins after a truck drops them off close to the water's edge. Running for their lives, dodging soldiers and their gun fire, they are picked up in a skiff. Still dodging bullets, the overcrowded skiff takes them to a fishing boats further out in the sea. It is hot and humid and there isn't much drinking water. When the boat springs a leak, Tuan's mother and aunt help bail out the water as quickly as they can. On the third day, the boat's engine dies and the refugees find themselves adrift on the huge and unpredictable Pacific Ocean. One day six, an American aircraft carrier is spotted and the refugees are welcomed aboard. The Ho family, we learn, survives they harrowing ordeal, and are reunited with Tuan's father and sister in Canada. And yes, Van and her grandmother both arrive in Canada in 1985, safe and sound. Adrift at Sea is told from Tuan's point of view, and aimed at readers about the same age as he was when he escaped Vietnam. Such a young narrator may not capture the truly difficult and risky trip in the kind of detail a book for older readers might, but he still very clearly depicts the fear, the hot sun, lack of water, and relief at being rescued at an age appropriate level that any young reader will be able understand. Skrypuch has included a number photos of the Ho family, both in Vietnam and in Canada. She has also included a brief history of the "boat people" as the refugees came to be called. The refugees faced not only the kinds of problems that the Ho family dealt with, but there were storms, pirates and always the threat of dying of thirst and hunger, and sometimes, they found that they were not welcomed everywhere. Using a color palette mainly of oranges, yellows and blues, Deines's highly textured oil on canvas illustrations capture all the secrecy, fear, and perils, all wrapped up in the dangerously hazy, hot, and humid weather that these refugees faced in their desire for freedom and a better life. Adrift at Sea is a powerful historical nonfiction story that can certainly help shed light on events of the past that share a similarity to those that are happening in the world today. This book is recommended for readers age 6+ This book was sent to me by the publisher, Pajama Press This review was originally posted at The Children's War

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Froese

    This picturebook is set in 1981 when then 6 year old Tuan, his mother, and two of his siblings set out to escape civil unrest in Vietnam to make the dangerous journey to reunite with his father and older sister in Canada. Tuan, now a father with a wife and two children of his own, is a practicing physiotherapist with a clinic of his own. The art by Brian Deines captures the vivid colour of Southeast Asia, and the blurred lines of memory.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    I remember teaching in New Orleans back when the so-called "Vietnamese boat people" arrived in our city, and some of my students had somehow managed to survive that horrendous ordeal. There were no books for children about the experience; nor, to my knowledge, have there been any published until this one. Based on Tuan Ho's actual ordeal when he was only six, this book will touch the hearts of all refugees while also providing readers unfamiliar with what happened at the end of the Vietnam War s I remember teaching in New Orleans back when the so-called "Vietnamese boat people" arrived in our city, and some of my students had somehow managed to survive that horrendous ordeal. There were no books for children about the experience; nor, to my knowledge, have there been any published until this one. Based on Tuan Ho's actual ordeal when he was only six, this book will touch the hearts of all refugees while also providing readers unfamiliar with what happened at the end of the Vietnam War some perspective. The story takes place in 1981 as part of the family slips away during the night by truck and by boat to leave their homeland far behind them. As they clamor aboard an overcrowded fishing boat, they are hungry and thirsty and endure punishing heat, a leaky boat, and a stalled engine and end up drifting at sea for days until being rescued. The illustrations, created with oil paint on canvas, are filled with bright colors that almost mimic the sun pounding down on Tuan and his family as well as dark tones that highlight the fears that come as they try to outrun bullets at the start of their journey. Readers will marvel at the resilience of Tuan and his family even while imagining what they themselves might have done during that time. I was particularly struck by how his family had to be split before beginning their journey with one daughter being left behind with other relatives. Back matter includes photographs of the family, then and now, as well as a brief discussion of the events that led to the family's flight from Vietnam to Canada. I'm so glad to add this well-told story to my collection of books featuring heroic individuals who somehow found the courage to make a change in their lives by taking a risk.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Holy sh*t. At my elementary school in the 1970s, there were two families of "boat people" as we rather callously called them. My husband worked with a man who remembers being boarded by pirates and robbed of all possessions during his family's ordeal. Another friend's husband isn't clear as to how old he is, and his family was going through such a long journey through various countries' refugee camps during the time he was born and his birth went unrecorded. So it's not like this story was a sur Holy sh*t. At my elementary school in the 1970s, there were two families of "boat people" as we rather callously called them. My husband worked with a man who remembers being boarded by pirates and robbed of all possessions during his family's ordeal. Another friend's husband isn't clear as to how old he is, and his family was going through such a long journey through various countries' refugee camps during the time he was born and his birth went unrecorded. So it's not like this story was a surprise to me. But--it becomes so visceral, told from the point of view of the child himself. And obviously, the way it resonates for today--the sheer desperation it would take a family with children to flee their home, risking their life for the chance of survival. And it breaks my heart, the relief they had upon being rescued by the American aircraft carrier, because we are no longer that place of refuge and welcome.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    A moving story of a young Vietnamese boy and his family risking everything to escape the horrors of their home in search of a better life. First they must endure the hardships of the ocean with limited water, a hot blazing sun and a leaking boat with 60 people in it. This refugee story is brilliantly illustrated in a gentle way for its young readers.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Georgia

    A captivating story. I loved the historical synopsis and photos at the end. Beautifully illustrated. Thanks for the copy of the book, sis!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Considering all that we know of recent escapes from homelands in the middle east, this book reminds us that there was another time of escape for survival. That time was years ago when many Vietnamese were forced to leave their homes and country because they were no longer safe when Communists took over the whole country. The sole way of leaving was to escape at night, under cover of darkness and eventually by boat. This picture book, while brief, shows exactly what happened to Tuan Ho and his i Considering all that we know of recent escapes from homelands in the middle east, this book reminds us that there was another time of escape for survival. That time was years ago when many Vietnamese were forced to leave their homes and country because they were no longer safe when Communists took over the whole country. The sole way of leaving was to escape at night, under cover of darkness and eventually by boat. This picture book, while brief, shows exactly what happened to Tuan Ho and his immediate family when they escaped. They left at different times because some of the children were young. The father and older sister escaped earlier. This boat ride for Tuan, his mother and siblings, some aunts and uncles turns harrowing when the boat starts leaking and then the motor dies. Previously, others had died, either by starvation or drowning, but Tuan's boat finally was spotted by an American carrier, and the boat's sixty people were saved. Because it's a picture book for younger readers, I think the suffering of those on the boat was minimized, or perhaps it's up to the reader to imagine that suffering? The story begins by being left by the truck that transported them to the seashore and boarding a small boat that would take them to a larger one. They were shot at and Tuan was hit only by a rock that skittered onto his leg. On the voyage, a capful of water was the drink possible, the boat began to leak and Tuan's mother and his Aunt Nghia are the only ones willing to bail water. They thought they would not survive. Tuan's story is co-written by him and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. There is further explanation of the war and the family, and photographs in the backmatter. All the family has survived, the children have grown up and now have families of their own. Illustrations by Brian Deines are gorgeous paintings, mostly double-page spreads. They show the action and challenge, most of all the happiness of being rescued. It's an amazing story. The blurb on the inside cover states this is the first picture book that describes the plight of the Vietnam "boat people" refugees. It seems important in light of the recent tragedies of refugees fleeing their homes in Syria and other countries.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wunderdrugged

    This book tells the story of six-year-old Tuan Ho and his family's harrowing escape from communist Vietnam. Done as a picture book, this true story is a great teaching tool when discussing immigration and refugees. Tuan escaped via boat with about sixty other people. The boat they were in is was not in good shape, and three days into what was supposed to be a four day journey, the motor gave out. At the mercy of the sea, Tuan and his family were eventually rescued on day six by an American aircr This book tells the story of six-year-old Tuan Ho and his family's harrowing escape from communist Vietnam. Done as a picture book, this true story is a great teaching tool when discussing immigration and refugees. Tuan escaped via boat with about sixty other people. The boat they were in is was not in good shape, and three days into what was supposed to be a four day journey, the motor gave out. At the mercy of the sea, Tuan and his family were eventually rescued on day six by an American aircraft carrier. I really liked the extra information that was included at the end of the book to explain the Vietnam war, and the photographs of Tuan and his family. This is a story of courage and hope, and I think it would be an accessible way to initiate a discussion with young children about refugees.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Viviane Elbee

    If you're discussing immigration with older elementary students, I highly recommend this book, which is based on the true story of a family of Vietnamese immigrants. The kids asked a lot of questions afterwards - it's definitely thought-provoking. It can be paired with other books about immigrants, such as Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Journey by Francesca Sanna, When Christmas Feels like Home by Gretchen Griffith and The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros. If you're discussing immigration with older elementary students, I highly recommend this book, which is based on the true story of a family of Vietnamese immigrants. The kids asked a lot of questions afterwards - it's definitely thought-provoking. It can be paired with other books about immigrants, such as Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Journey by Francesca Sanna, When Christmas Feels like Home by Gretchen Griffith and The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Valerie Sherrard

    A beautifully told story, Skrypuch perfectly captures the emotions and experiences of the Vietnamese refugees who fled their homes and braved great perils in the hope for a better life. Accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations of Brian Deines, this important story from the past is particularly germane in current world events. Every school child should read Adrift at Sea.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nadia L. Hohn

    I have Marsha Skrypuch, the author of this book, a few times and am a member, Authors' Booking Service, a company she helped to start. I found the background story and pages (foreword and afterword) very nicely laid out and compelling. The text recounts a tale of escape from Vietnam and is the story of one of the Vietnamese boatpeople. I wondered how anyone could survive such a harrowing condition but we saw it with groups of people fleeing their homeland throughout history and we see it today. I have Marsha Skrypuch, the author of this book, a few times and am a member, Authors' Booking Service, a company she helped to start. I found the background story and pages (foreword and afterword) very nicely laid out and compelling. The text recounts a tale of escape from Vietnam and is the story of one of the Vietnamese boatpeople. I wondered how anyone could survive such a harrowing condition but we saw it with groups of people fleeing their homeland throughout history and we see it today. In fact, just yesterday, a report came about 50 people are reported to have died after a boat sunk off the coast of Libya. I would recommend this for an older child (ages 7-9).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Jeziorski

    This is a good book to use for memoir with older students (late ES/MS would be good). Although the story relates to the Vietnam War, the struggle of refugees wanting to move to safety still resonates today.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brandi Kutz

    No AR yet. A young boy named Tuan and his family are trying to escape Vietnam during the Vietnam War. There are many ups and downs and a four day boat journey turns into six. When all hope seems to be lost, an American aircraft carrier come to their rescue, taking on board sixty Vietnamese refugees. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on until I saw the American military ship and read the information section at the end of the book. It's filled with good information for kids and it's fascinatin No AR yet. A young boy named Tuan and his family are trying to escape Vietnam during the Vietnam War. There are many ups and downs and a four day boat journey turns into six. When all hope seems to be lost, an American aircraft carrier come to their rescue, taking on board sixty Vietnamese refugees. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on until I saw the American military ship and read the information section at the end of the book. It's filled with good information for kids and it's fascinating to read the accounts of a refugee, especially since he was only about six years old during the time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Tanner

    This is a picture book for big kids! It's a beautifully illustrated story of a Vietnamese boy's harrowing journey during the Vietnam War. This is a picture book for big kids! It's a beautifully illustrated story of a Vietnamese boy's harrowing journey during the Vietnam War.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tony Tran

    It's very refreshing to read a story of the Vietnamese boat people that brims with hope and joy more than despair. Love this along with the post-text detailing Tuan Ho's family's personal journey. It's very refreshing to read a story of the Vietnamese boat people that brims with hope and joy more than despair. Love this along with the post-text detailing Tuan Ho's family's personal journey.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    The harrowing true story of a refugee family fleeing Vietnam in 1981, a few of the many thousands of "Boat People" who fled the country in the years following the fall of Saigon. The harrowing true story of a refugee family fleeing Vietnam in 1981, a few of the many thousands of "Boat People" who fled the country in the years following the fall of Saigon.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sharie

    It's the little things, like drinking one capful of water, that make the horror of this trip accessible to readers. It's the little things, like drinking one capful of water, that make the horror of this trip accessible to readers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Not quite a memoir, but is a true story. The illustrations add to the urgency of the telling & the pictures of the actual family plus the follow up at the end make this even more compelling. I can imagine using this as an example of an informational text or maybe as a narrative mentor text.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Exciting!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    A useful introduction to a difficult topic - suspense, hope and relief. Illustrations done in oil have soft edges and muted colors, conveying the mood of moving in darkness and trying not to be discovered. Photos of the family will help youngsters feel the reality of this event.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cara Byrne

    This is one of the most intense refugee stories in picture book form in the genre of children's literature, especially with an early scene where the Tuan, a young boy, is almost shot and another scene where he witnesses a boat on fire. It's well-written and provides a little known history that connects well to contemporary refugee crises. This is one of the most intense refugee stories in picture book form in the genre of children's literature, especially with an early scene where the Tuan, a young boy, is almost shot and another scene where he witnesses a boat on fire. It's well-written and provides a little known history that connects well to contemporary refugee crises.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Ruigrok

    This is an excellent story about Tuan Ho coming to Canada from Vietnam as a young boy. The challenges and risks that his family had to take to get here and to escape their life. This book has photos of Tuan Ho and his family, as well as beautiful illustrations throughout the book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cheriee Weichel

    I've been wanting to read this book since I first read about it. I've read other accounts of Vietnamese people's horrific escape from Vietnam, and across my teaching career, I've taught their children and grandchildren. Brian Deines illustrations are gorgeous. Skrypuch and Ho's story is compelling and frightening. I especially appreciate the photographs and additional information about Ho's family in the backmatter. I've been wanting to read this book since I first read about it. I've read other accounts of Vietnamese people's horrific escape from Vietnam, and across my teaching career, I've taught their children and grandchildren. Brian Deines illustrations are gorgeous. Skrypuch and Ho's story is compelling and frightening. I especially appreciate the photographs and additional information about Ho's family in the backmatter.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Annie Do

    This book talked about Vietnamese immigrants and their journey through the sea, immigrating as "boat people" to seek refuge in other countries. The story focuses on a boy named Tuan and how his journey escaping Vietnam on a boat was like. The story ended with a good ending as American sailors found Tuan, his family, and the other people that were on the boat, and rescued them from the sea. The illustrations of this book were colorful and bright, depicting characters that were free of stereotyped This book talked about Vietnamese immigrants and their journey through the sea, immigrating as "boat people" to seek refuge in other countries. The story focuses on a boy named Tuan and how his journey escaping Vietnam on a boat was like. The story ended with a good ending as American sailors found Tuan, his family, and the other people that were on the boat, and rescued them from the sea. The illustrations of this book were colorful and bright, depicting characters that were free of stereotyped biases. The language of this book were simple and easy to understand, yet very descriptive and engaging, and the real-life photographs presented a very authentic feel to the book. Additionally, this is a great book for any teacher to have in class as it helps students reflect and discuss about world events that deal with immigration. The students can think about what other countries go through to have to resort to immigrating to a whole different country. Depending on how this book is used, Banks's levels of integration could range from level 1 all the way through level 4.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caitlyn

    Refugee stories always touch my heart. I loved the feeling in this book. I like the honestly. These books help me see the world in a way that I cannot experience for myself.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Meredith Kaupp

    An amazing look at what it was like for children.and families who escaped from Vietnam.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jana

    This beautiful nonfiction picture book tells a powerful story of survival and the harrowing experience of a group of Vietnamese refugees. In 1981, Tuan's family was desperate to escape the horrible conditions imposed on them by the government of their country. Running through gunfire to escape in a leaky fishing boat not meant for long sea journeys, they wound up adrift with little drinking water and the danger of not surviving. Tuan Ho's account of his family's perilous trip, along with beautif This beautiful nonfiction picture book tells a powerful story of survival and the harrowing experience of a group of Vietnamese refugees. In 1981, Tuan's family was desperate to escape the horrible conditions imposed on them by the government of their country. Running through gunfire to escape in a leaky fishing boat not meant for long sea journeys, they wound up adrift with little drinking water and the danger of not surviving. Tuan Ho's account of his family's perilous trip, along with beautiful oil paintings to illustrate this narrative, make this a terrific resource for anyone who wants to learn more about Vietnamese refugees (sometimes referred to as "boat people"). It could also be used as a way to draw parallels to the experiences of refugee families of today.

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