Adrift at Sea Reviews

Publishers Weekly

AdriftAtSea_website “Skrypuch uses one child’s story to give moving insight into the experience of the many children who escaped war-ravaged Vietnam to start new lives….Deines’s hazy oil paintings poignantly capture the family’s physical ordeal and anguish during their perilous journey.”

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School Library Journal

“Gr 1-4–A personal account of one family’s escape from Vietnam following the fall of Saigon. Ho, only six years old at the time, tells a remarkable tale of perseverance that involved attacks from soldiers, a broken boat at sea, and a trip that was intended to last four days but went horribly awry. Amazingly, throughout the harrowing journey, his family remained intact. “It’s hard to find a place to sit, but finally we huddle together, clutching hands and falling asleep to the lullaby of slapping waves and the growl of the motor.” Back matter includes family photographs, maps, and a historical note about the Vietnam War and the resulting refugee crisis, which makes this title helpful for discussing the topics of relocation and the history of refugee placement. The narrative, while gripping, includes vocabulary words like skiff, bailing, adrift, and tethers that young children unfamiliar with sailing are unlikely to recognize. Deines’s illustrations, created with oil paint on canvas, provide some contextual background but have a muted palette and tend to minimize the story’s emotion and sense of urgency. VERDICT This is a solid informational resource that can be used for introducing a refugee’s experience.”
–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

School Library Connection

“Tuan Ho relates, in brief and easy to read passages, the true story of his dramatic escape from Vietnam…The beautiful, full-page oil paintings effectively convey the dangerous escape, the blistering heat, and the loneliness of being adrift on the ocean. Photographs, maps, and historical background on the Vietnamese refugee crisis provide historical context and form an emotional connection with the story. This is an especially useful book to help students understand why refugees are still crowding into boats and risking everything for a better life even today. Highly Recommended.
—MaryAnn Karre, Retired Librarian, Vestal, New York

Booklist Online

“In this picture book for somewhat older readers, Ho narrates the story of his perilous escape from postwar Vietnam, in 1981, describing his pain at leaving behind loved ones and relief upon being rescued by an American aircraft carrier after six days adrift on the ocean. The text is terse and unembellished, leaving the rich images to capture the emotional events. Photographs of the family bookend the story and remind readers of the events’ reality.”

Midwest Book Review

“…Adrift at Sea is a heartwarming story that will prompt young people to be grateful for the good things in their lives, and highly recommended.”

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Tuan Ho was only six years old when his family embarked on a dangerous voyage to escape Vietnam and became part of the ‘boat people’ fleeing their homeland: his story is told in a non-fiction narrative that captures the experience for young readers. Highly recommended.”

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The International Educator

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, Illustrated by Brian Deines. What are Vietnamese boat people? Where did they go, and why? This beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book introduces the reader to a real family: two parents and their five children. Told in the voice of six-year-old Tuan, it explains how thousands were forced to flee communist South Vietnam after the Vietnam war….Tuan was among the lucky ones rescued by a U.S. naval ship….An interesting read that explains why and how people are sometimes forced to flee and find a new homeland.”

Read the full review in the December 2016 issue of The International Educator

Quill & Quire

“A new picture book from multiple-award-winning author Marsha Skrypuch and renowned illustrator Brian Deines tells the story of a young boy’s remarkable escape from Vietnam in the early 1980s….

This is not the first time Skrypuch has dealt with Vietnam. Her 2011 non-fiction title Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War won the Red Cedar Book Award. The author’s familiarity with her subject is evident here, and Tuan’s dramatic story of survival comes alive in Skrypuch’s capable hands. The heart-pounding action alone is enough to captivate readers, but Skrypuch also incorporates moments of great poignancy that add depth and emotion. As little Tuan watches a nearby boat filled with people erupt in flames and slowly sink, he reflects that there is nothing he can do to help and wonders if the same thing will happen to his boat. This is just one of many scenes with the potential to inspire empathy and discussion about the plight of refugees.

Deines’s accompanying artwork is achingly beautiful. Rich, warm colours make readers feel they are experiencing Vietnam for themselves. That danger can exist amid such beauty is an important lesson to learn. That the human spirit can triumph under the most trying of conditions is even more important.”
Sarah Sorensen

Read the full review in the December 2016 issue of Quill & Quire on page 49

Resource Links

“What a powerful book! Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and Tuan Ho tell the story of Tuan and his family’s escape from Vietnam in an overcrowded fishing boat in 1981. The story is a true one recounted by Tuan of how he (when he was six years old), his mother, his two sisters and his aunt and cousins made their escape…

Brian Deines’ subtle double-page oil paintings add greatly to the mood and text of this story. There is also an historical and biographical section at the end of the book which explains the conditions in Vietnam in 1981 and what happened to Tuan Ho’s family as they made a new life for themselves in Canada. Tuan has become a very successful physiotherapist and now has a family of his own.

This book is very timely as we have so many refugees from war torn countries in the Middle East now attempting to make their way to a better life under the same kind of conditions that the Vietnamese people experienced back in 1981. With so many refugee children attending schools in Canada now, books like this one can help young children appreciate what some of these children have experienced and develop an empathy for them as they integrate into Canadian society.

I would highly recommend this book for all school and public libraries.”
Victoria Pennell

Read the full review on page 26 of the December 2016 issue of Resource Links

Canadian Children’s BookNews

“…Adrift at Sea tells this difficult tale with a direct honesty that creates an opportunity for accompanied discussion, especially for some younger readers. Skrypuch maintains a strong sense of hope throughout, demonstrating the true strength of young Tuan. It is also a powerful story for all readers in light of the Syrian refugee crisis, providing an accessible way to build empathy toward newcomers to Canada.

The illustrations by Brian Deines are detailed, giving the story a canvas-like texture, and they add depth and richness to the imagery created by the words. This balances with the black-and-white photographs included of Tuan. The final pages of the book give the historical context, which may help it to reach an even broader audience of readers interested in the historical significance and the real-life outcome of the story.”
Ashley Pamenter

Read the full review on page 26 of the Winter 2016 issue of Canadian Children’s BookNews

Booklist

“The text is terse and unembellished, leaving the images to capture the emotions through color and perspective—and they do so with compelling immediacy.”

Kirkus Reviews

“…detailed authors’ notes include history, photographs, and maps. The warm undertones in Deines’ oil paintings evoke tropical Vietnam.”

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CM Magazine

“Brian Deines…created beautiful oil on canvas illustrations for the book. The colours of the illustrations are bight and vibrant. Other highlights of the book are the personal photographs, biography of Tuan’s family, map, and historical note which bookend the narrative of the story…. Adrift at Sea is an important addition to Canadian picture book market….Recommended.”

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The Children’s War

“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….

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+”

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

“From the illustration of a lone boat adrift in a wash of dry heat that graces the cover of Adrift at Sea, to the dark and engrossing images of Tuan’s steps along the journey, Brian Deines’ art is evocative and integrative, resplendent in complementary colours of orange and golds and blues and purples.”

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Library of Clean Reads

“Book Description:

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.

Our Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani and Son

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[’s] 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.

My Review:
Reviewed by Sandra Olshaski

I was deeply touched by this beautiful true story of a family’s survival in the face of overwhelming odds as they leave Vietnam in search of a new life in the West. Sixty Vietnamese refugees, among whom is six-year-old Tuan Ho and his family, endure days at sea as the motor of the fishing boat fails, the hull is leaking, drinking water is depleted, and the merciless sun beats down upon them, They are finally rescued by an American aircraft carrier and eventually reach Canada.

I loved the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures as well as the brief historical overview of events relating to the war in Vietnam. It seems so long ago that our hearts were being gripped by the ordeals of the so-called Vietnamese ‘boat people.’ This book makes it very current in view of the new generation of refugees on the world scene.

The soft-focus artwork done by Brian Deines that illustrates each page is amazing. A shout-out to him! The author has produced a very readable book that both parents and children should read together.

I highly recommend this beautiful book.”

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Literacy Daily

“After the U.S. military left South Vietnam, many Vietnamese who had befriended Americans were worried about their fate. They were so desperate for safety that some took huge risks to leave the region. In this visually stunning picture book—the first to explore this troubling time—readers learn of the dangerous journey taken by 6-year-old Tuan Ho and his family in 1981. Slipping away under cover of darkness, the family ends up on an overcrowded fishing boat that breaks down, leaving them stranded and suffering from thirst and punishing heat for four days before being rescued by an American aircraft carrier. The evocative text and powerful illustrations, painted with oils, enable readers to feel as though they, too, are refugees adrift at sea during this risky journey to freedom. Back matter includes family photographs, showing Tuan Ho’s family then and now, as well as a brief discussion of the events that led to the family’s flight from Vietnam to Canada.”

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Sals Fiction Addiction

“‘I jump over rocks and bushes, running to the boats. Guns fire. One bullet pierces a clump of dirt by my foot. I stumble and roll, head over heels. I get up and keep running. Soldiers shout. My heart pounds.’

Today we are all aware of the refugee crisis that grips the world. Too many people are forced to flee their homes in search of safety and a better life, away from the strife and danger in their own villages, towns, cities, countries. We see their faces, hear their stories and share their hopes for a happier future.

In 1981, the ‘boat people’ from Vietnam are struggling to deal with what has happened in their own beloved country. They, too, see their only hope is in leaving. Tuan Ho’s father and sister have been gone for a year, looking to find a home for the rest of their family and sponsor their journey to Canada. Today, after school, he learns that preparations have been made for the rest of the family’s flight to freedom. They must leave their smallest sister behind, as she is too young to be taken safely.

Trucked to the sea and running from the soldiers’ bullets, they board a skiff filled with 60 people and begin their four day journey. On the second day the skiff springs a leak, on the third the motor dies. They are adrift for three more harrowing days – with little food, almost no water, a blazing sun, and hope. Their rescue comes in the form of an aircraft carrier whose crew brings them on board, gives them food and refuge.

The authors include personal photographs of Tuan’s family, before their escape and following their settling in Canada, to help readers understand this historical moment in time. Added information includes a map, archival and family photos, and an explanation for the need to leave.

‘It is a testament to how horrible life was that so many thousands of Vietnamese were willing to risk their lives for a chance to escape. For twenty years following the Fall of Saigon, people tried to escape Vietnam any way they could. The only way out was by sea, and those who could afford it would bribe government officials in order to get their documents and a boat. Those who didn’t have the money had to sneak away secretly and without travel papers. Rich or poor, they all ended up in boats not made for long travel on open water.’

The dangers were many, their journeys harrowing, and the time spent in refugee camps often too long. Still, they stayed the course and eventually many settled in ‘the United States, France, Australia, and Canada.’

Brian Deines (as he always does) has created truly beautiful artwork using oils on canvas to bring Tuan’s story to this book’s readers. From the lush, tropical street in Ho Chi Minh City, the dark seashore, the blistering heat of a sun-filled sky, the clear blue beauty of the sea beneath them where dolphins play, to the almost overpowering arrival of the aircraft carrier, we journey with the family as they make their courageous way to a new life.”

Click here to read more from Sal’s Fiction Addiction

Semicolon

“…The illustrations in this book, full color paintings, are absolutely stunning. Canadian illustrator, Brian Deines, has outdone himself in two-page spreads that bring this refugee story to life.

The story itself, a slice of life, begins abruptly without any explanation as to why the family must leave Vietnam. Nor does the main part of the text explain what happens to Tuan Ho and family after they are rescued at sea. However, there are some explanatory pages with both photographs and text at the end of the book that tell readers about the history of the Vietnam War and about the entire history of Tuan Ho’s family and their emigration from Vietnam and eventual reunification in Canada. It’s a good introduction to the subject of the Vietnamese boat people for both older students and middle grade readers. Even primary age children could appreciate Tuan Ho’s story with a little bit of explanation from a parent or teacher about the war and the Communist persecution that they were fleeing….”

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Kids BookBuzz

“We rated this book: 5/5

…This book is true, and it is really sad. It was really scary for Tuan to try to escape, and the worst thing was that his family couldn’t be together for a long time. The pictures really help you understand how it would have felt. This is a good book to help you understand how people feel and the things they have to do if they feel like they need to run away from bad things that are happening where they live.”
—Rachel, Age 9

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Book Dreaming

This is one of the most beautiful and powerful picture books Ive seen in a long time. I wasblown away by the emotional impact of both the story and the illustrations. It would make a perfect edition to any middle or high school history classroom. I STRONGLY recommend this one!

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Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books

“…[A] powerful story, and it doesn’t shy away from the dangers experienced—sometimes fatally—by the refugees. Deines’…scenes of escape are dramatic, and creative perspectives occasionally add dimension to the visuals. While this will be useful in a curriculum about immigration, it’s also a way to contextualize current refugee crises that haven’t yet hit the literature. A concluding note gives more information about the Vietnamese ‘boat people,’ and pictures of Tuan Ho and his family are included alongside the summary of the Ho family’s subsequent life.”

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readingpowergear.wordpress.com

“This is the beautiful true story of a family’s survival in the face of overwhelming odds as they leave Vietnam in search of a new life….The amazing life-like illustrations and large format makes it an engaging read-aloud. I appreciated the historical facts and real photos of Tuan in his family included at the back of the book.”

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Jana the Teacher

“This beautiful nonfiction picture book tells a powerful story of survival and the harrowing experience of a group of Vietnamese refugees….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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Nerdy Book Club

“Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boys Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skyrpuch with Tuan Ho is likely the first picture book written by and about the refugees or boat people as they became known, fleeing Vietnam after the takeover of Saigon in 1975….End pages include photographs and information that round out the story and tell of Tuan’s life in with his family in Toronto.”

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