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My Footprints written by Bao Phi, Illustrated by Basia Tran

Fans of A Different Pond, will be thrilled to see a new offering by Bao Phi. Reading this book with Jennifer Serravallo’s book club this summer, I was excited by what it offers to readers and especially to young writers. I tucked this book away, hoping to use it when the weather and the study coincided. Of course, students studied narratives in early fall and now have moved on to writing opinion work, but rediscovering this little gem seems like kismet right now. It is always the right time to share empathy and great author moves.

The author’s craft moves begin as soon as you turn the page to the inside cover. Filled with footprints of many shapes and sizes, it is worth the effort to stop and discuss with students why might the author include many different types of footprints, why did he choose footprints as his repeated image? The footprints change throughout the books, what could be the meaning of the footprints?

I make special note with students that Bao Phi teaches us how to say our characters names.
You may want to stop right away on page 1 and talk about Thuy’s emotions in this picture. Without any words, students will know what has happened and speculate on her feelings.

The graceful narrative continues with rich word relations in phrases such as ‘new snow cracks like eggshells’ and “branches that reach like gloved fingers. These flow throughout the text and you will find your listeners stopping you to point out the sparkling details.

Thuy continues her journey and the author changes the setting by changing the characters Thuy comes into contact with and the footprints she makes during their contact. As Thuy moves along, her footprints are smaller when she is alone and larger when she is interacting with other characters. As the settings change, rich discussion can ensue about the author’s careful craft moves.

This picture book is chocked full with craft moves, more than I can point out in this short review. Here is one more that will be very useful for writers of any age.

The characters’ inner responses are mirrored in their faces.

From text, ” Momma Arti’s voice sounds frayed but warm, like Thuy’s favorite blanket.

The rich meaning of this text may be interpreted by readers of all ages. Students may come to the lesson that the journey teaches us. With the help of her journey home and the support of her moms, Thuy’s response changes. There are a lot of different ways to be strong, her mothers share. Thuy explores the strength of animals from the obvious dragon and even elephant, to the powerful phoenix rising from the ashes the family forms together with shadows. Then Momma Arti reminds Thuy of the Sarabha, an expected combination of beautiful things. The subtle cultural richness of this text makes it a treasured addition to your classroom library. In the end, Thuy imagines her own creature, one formed by love. The footprints at the end of the story are a perfect ending to this tale.

For older writers, Bao Phi’s authors notes about imagining his audience will be a strong mentor for writers. For all our writers, Bao Phi’s explanation of his inspirations from his own experiences along with his setting and neighbors in Minneapolis may lead us to ask, how can you be inspired by the place you are?

This book will be a wonderful read aloud for young listeners and a powerful mentor text for author’s craft for all writers.

A tip for our current situation: I take my favorite read alouds and create slides decks of the stories so that I can easily share them both for a socially distanced class audience and online students as well. The physical text will slip into my conferring bag to be read and shown with students in close proximity.

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