Wishes, by Mượn Thị Văn: Opening our readers’ hearts

Personal stories, especially picture books, have an incredible power to open readers’ hearts. In her beautiful new book

Wishes
by Mượn Thị Văn
illustrated by Victo Ngai
Orchard / Scholastic, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 6 and up

As a young girl and her family pack in the middle of the night, they say a tearful goodbye to her grandfather and others who will stay behind. They make their way to board a small boat, and then begin a dangerous journey across the ocean, searching for a new life. Văn structures the story as a series of wishes. As the family waits in line with other refugees, “the boat wished it was bigger.” 

“The boat wished it was bigger.”

Mượn Thị Văn uses spare, poetic language and lets Victo Ngai’s beautiful, cinematic imagery convey much of the story.  This combination encourages readers to pause and open their hearts, both to the fear this young family faces and their hope of finding a better life. This picture book helps readers hold profound loss, resilience and hope all at once.

Văn’s family fled Vietnam when she was a baby — her family’s experiences as migrants and refugees is the inspiration for this story. As Văn says, “Every line of text is grounded in my family’s experience as refugees. I wanted the reader to be able to see, and feel, the story from the inside.” This video introduces both author and artist, and conveys their personal connections to this story:

This is a picture book we’ll be sharing in our high school. We’ll use it to start a unit of study for Thi Bui’s memoir, The Best We Could Do. Not only will this help our students start understanding the experiences of a refugee family, but it will do this by encouraging them to open their hearts. I would encourage you to share this widely, with children ages 6 and up. It is truly a picture book that will speak to a wide range.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support. 

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books