Finding Papa

HarperCollins. Feb. 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063060968.
PreS-Gr 3–Mai loves to play the crocodile chomp with Papa. Papa chomps his hands together and Mai always laughs because “Crocodiles were scary, but Papa was not.” One day Papa says an extra long goodbye to Mai and Mama, then leaves Vietnam to look for a new home for them all. When word finally arrives from Papa, Mama and Mai set out to join him, taking very little with them. During the long and difficult journey, first by foot, then by boat, Mai comforts herself by playing crocodile chomp on her own. The pair eventually make their way to America where, dressed in new clothes, they see an unfamiliar man with a mustache approaching through a crowd. Mai doesn’t recognize the man and hides behind Mama’s legs, but her fears disappear when the man kneels and does the crocodile chomp. The illustrations infuse the story with warmth and keep even the most harrowing parts of the journey from feeling too scary for children. The love in Mai’s family is palpable, shown both by physical affection and the fact that they are never far from each other’s thoughts. An author’s note explains more about the true events of the book, and an artist’s note provides further historical and personal context as well.
VERDICT Reassuring despite depicting a dangerous journey and uncertain time; there are many children for whom this is not history, but family stories. Essential.

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