Finding Papa

by Angela Pham Krans (Author) Thi Bui (Illustrator)

Finding Papa
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

This poignant and lyrical debut picture book based on the author's own experience and illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Thi Bui follows young Mai and her mother's perilous journey from Vietnam to America to find Papa--who left ahead of them to start a better life for their family.

No one can make Mai laugh like her Papa! She loves playing their favorite game--the crocodile chomp chomp! But then Papa leaves Vietnam in search of a new home for their family in America and Mai misses him very much.

Until one day, Mama and Mai pack a small bag and say goodbye to the only home Mai has ever known. And so begins Mai and Mama's long, perilous journey by foot and by boat, through dangers and darkness, to find Papa.

Finding Papa reminds us that love and courage can stretch an ocean and that nothing can keep us apart from those we care about.


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Kirkus Reviews

An affecting story of courage and hope in hardship.


Stunning illustrations and gentle text tell the story of a separated family's heartrending and hopeful journey from Vietnam to the U.S. A beautifully moving collaboration of lyrical text and striking illustrations. 

Publishers Weekly

Drawing from personal experiences emigrating from Vietnam to America, per creators' notes, the author-illustrator team foregrounds one family's journey in this sensitive picture book. Young, dark-haired Mai laughs and squeals at her father's "chomp chomp" fingerplay, which depicts a hungry reptile: "Crocodiles were scary, but Papa was not." One morning, hugging Mai goodbye, her father lingers "longer than usual," and cries as he walks down the village road. He doesn't return home for playtime or dinner ("Chomp, chomp," Mai says to herself), but Mama reassures the child, revealing that Papa is finding the family a new home, and sharing letters she receives from him. One night, Mama packs a small bag, confiding, "We are going to find Papa." Traveling to him, a trip rendered in sensory-forward language from debut author Pham Krans, involves boarding a boat that fills with water in a storm, before a larger ship picks the passengers up and takes them to a camp. Eventually, Mai and Mama arrive in an American city, where "chomp, chomp" paves the way for reconnection. Mixed-media illustrations from Bui (A Different Pond) focus on interpersonal tenderness and varied landscapes, evoking across somber events a young child's joy and yearning, and a playful parent-child bond. Ages 4-8. Author's agent: Katherine Wessbecher, Bradford Literary. Illustrator's agent: Julie Stevenson, Massie & McQuilkin. (Feb.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

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.--Heather Webb

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Based on the author's real journey in 1983 from Vietnam to the U.S., the story brings another important voice to the recent influx of kid-authentic tellings of harrowing immigrant and refugee experiences such as Marwan's Where Butterflies Fill the Sky (BCCB 03/22), or Mayper's Night on the Sand (BCCB 07/22). Bui's illustrations stretch across the pages, with dappled textures and careful blending evocative of watercolor, while the compositions structure the story's pace. . . Add this to the aforementioned titles for an inclusive display on the various journeys people take to find safety and the hardships they often face. — Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
February 07, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV013060 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | Parents
JUV039250 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emigration & Immigration
JUV030020 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Asia
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
United States
20th century
Family life
Immigrant children
Junior Library Guild
Gold Standard Selection

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