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Wishes by Muon Thi Van. Illustrated by Victo Ngai 

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In this poignant children’s picture book based on her family’s history, author Muon Thi Van relates in 75 words the story of a family’s perilous escape with others on a small boat from southern Vietnam to Hong Kong.  

Winsomely-illustrated, this unique portrayal of the refugee experience from a young girl’s perspective describes both inanimate things and the child making wishes. While the family is preparing to leave their home in the middle of the night: “The night wished it was quieter. / The bag wished it was deeper. / The light wished it was brighter. / The dream wished it was longer. / The clock wished it was slower.” Traveling by land and sea: “The path wished it was shorter. / The boat wished it was bigger. / The sea wished it was calmer. / The sun wished it was cooler. / The heart wished it was stronger. / The home wished it was closer.” When the girl makes a wish as the group hails a coast guard boat, she realizes she doesn’t need to wish anymore as arms reach out and pull her to safety. 

In author notes, Muon Thi Van relates the details of her family’s escape from Vietnam and acknowledges the burgeoning numbers of refugees worldwide and the causes of their dislocation. She writes, “It is not always easy to decide whom to help and when. But I think it is easy to open our hearts and to do what we can when we can. Sometimes that means sharing what we don’t need, whether it’s food, clothing, or room. Sometimes that means volunteering as a language tutor, a guide, or a driver. … Sometimes doing what we can just means saying, ‘Hello.’” (Orchard Books)

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