Crystalclear recommended The Magic Fish to me for it’s fairytales and the beautiful illustrations. And she couldn’t have been more right. Trung Le Nguyen weaves a heartwarming story of Tien and his mother, two Vietnamese immigrants living in the US who are trying to navigate language, culture, and coming of age while battling loneliness and family duty.
Tien’s mother asks him to read her fairytales to help her with her English, and as they unfold, they remind her of how the fairytales are different in Vietetamese culture, and she shares her version with Tien. On the backdrop of these stories, which are beautifully illustrated and delightful, Tien is struggling with how to tell his mother about his sexuality. There are no words that he knows in Vietnamese, and she doesn’t understand enough English for him to express himself that way either. But fairytales bring them together, and the heartwarming way Nguyen weaves the fairytales through this story of family and belonging is so beautiful it almost hurts.
And that’s not even talking about the art, which is gorgeous and heavily researched based on the time period and essence of each fairytale theme. Nguyen uses specific color blocks and palates for specific stories, which really pulls everything together. There’s something extra magical about seeing these stories drawn on the page instead of written, and the specific details he uses from the Western versions to the Vietnamese versions really emphasizes the book’s themes of immigration.
The Magic Fish is semi-biographical, as Nguyen and his family learned how to speak English by reading fairytales together, and his author notes at the back of the book make an already impactful book ring so much deeper.
Bingo Square: Rec’d for the recommendation