When we wish for something, whether aloud or in the deepest parts of our hearts, it is sent out into the universe. Our wish signifies our belief in hope. It is hope which supplies us with strength. This strength allows us to move forward with confidence.
Anyone who leaves behind all they have known does so with a firm acceptance in the power of wishing. Wishes (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., May 4, 2021) written by Muon Thi Van with illustrations by Victo Ngai is a moving testament to a family's affirmation of hope. The spare melodic text and remarkable images will leave a mark on each reader's soul. They inspires gratitude and compassion at their deepest levels.
The night wished it was quieter.
As a family prepares to leave their home and beloved relatives behind, a wish is made by each of the many elements in their journey they are unable to control. These aspects reveal their desire to envelope this family (and others) in courage. Eleven voices proclaim their wishes until the child is about to reveal her own deepest desire.
The family can only take that which they can carry. A bag yearns to be more than it is. As the night wished for quiet, light longs for a stronger glow.
Have you ever wanted time to stop? A clock makes a similar request. As the family walks toward the vessel carrying them across the sea, more thoughts are sent out to surround them. The sea and sun make wishes, too.
As their perils continue, a final call is fervently expressed. After those moments, the child starts to speak but then stops. She stops because sometimes the universe grants our wishes before we disclose them. That is the splendor of hope fulfilled.
In twelve and one partial sentences, a powerful story is portrayed to readers by Muon Thi Van. Her use of third person in most of this tale creates a lasting memory for us. It causes us to look at our own life happenings and circumstances differently. The experience of this family is the experience of many families, however far they go and wherever they go. We feel this keenly and distinctly. Here is one more sentence.
The boat wished it was bigger.
The tranquil sea and starry sky we see on the front, right, of the open dust jacket is only a portion of the scene, which is spread over the spine and the back, flap edge to flap edge. It is a breathtaking symbol of wishes, continuing across sea and sky as far as the eye can see. Notice how the other people in the boat are given specific colors and face away from us or are looking down. The child looks at us, eyes open in anticipation. (I wish I knew what the tiny element to the left of the boar means. It appears throughout the book. A signature?) The text is varnished.
There is an intense and eloquent display on the book case. On a golden background are eight different faces, faces of refugees and immigrants. On the far left and far right, the faces are larger and looking forward. As the faces move toward the gutter they turn inward and are smaller in size. These children represent children from around the globe.
On the opening endpapers waves of green, yellow and black depict the journey across the sea. On the closing endpapers reds, yellows, oranges, and a few streaks of green in large brush strokes can indicate many things. Do they represent a calm sea at the beginning or end of a day? Do they indicate wishes, hopes or desires answered? Do they show us a new home is found?
On the verso and title pages, a double-page picture shows the little girl getting out of her bed. Each double-page image created by Victo Ngai serves to provide emotional context through the color palette, texture, lines, and perspective. In several of the illustrations before they go, the little girl is hugging a black dog she will probably not see again. The tears streaming down an older man's (grandfather's) face as he embraces the two older children (his grandchildren) is heartbreaking. When we look down upon the people in the boat as the sea rages around them, we wish, yes wish, we could lift them to safety.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations shows the inside of the home as the family is about to depart. To the left of the gutter, the mother stands in the doorway facing inside. She carries the infant in front of her in a wrap. About her feet are bags to carry and a large container for water. The black dog has its front paws on her body. She has one of her hands over her mouth. To the right of the gutter, closer to us is the elder man hugging the children as tears pool in his eyes. The children are crying as they hug him back. Can you imagine the bravery it takes each one of these beings to face an unknown future?
This book, Wishes written by Muon Thi Van with illustrations by Victo Ngai, will break hearts and heal them again. It is a story often told around the world every day. It is extraordinary in its excellence. There are an author's note and an illustrator's note at the end. This book has my highest recommendation for a place in your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Muon Thi Van and Victo Ngai and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Muon Thi Van has an account on Twitter. Victo Ngai has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., the cover is revealed along with an interview with both creators.