Serendipity — and a 3M grant — brought Bao Phi, two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, to the Park Rapids Library's storytime last Friday.
Phi read from his award-winning, debut children's book, "A Different Pond." He brought along the first child to ever read his book: his daughter, Sông.
"When she was two we brought her to Itasca to see the headwaters because her name means 'river,'" in Vietnamese, explained Phi. "She was so young, she doesn't remember it. I thought to myself, 'I'd really like to bring her back here some day to the see the headwaters again when she's old enough to remember.'"
About six months ago, Branch Manager Jodi Schultz asked Phi if he would be interested in visiting the Park Rapids Library.
"And the rest is history. We're very thankful to be up here. We're very thankful you're here to hear our story," Phi told the audience of 20 or so children and adults.
Phi began writing poetry as a sophomore in high school. His poems and essays are widely published in numerous publications, including "Screaming Monkeys" and "Spoken Word Revolution Redux." He has also released several CDs of his poetry.
"A Different Pond" is loosely based on his father, who served in the Vietnam War.
"We came to America as refugees when I was just a baby," he said, adding that they bounced around refugee camps until a family in Minnesota offered to sponsor them.
"And my dad used to take me on fishing trips to help feed the family."
A poem about these fishing excursions evolved into "A Different Pond."
Illustrated by Thi Bui, the book was published by Capstone Press in August of 2017. "A Different Pond" earned six starred reviews, a Caldecott Honor as well as the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Honors, The Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, Booklist Editor's Choice and a Hornbook Fanfare book. It was named among the best books of the year by Kirkus, Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and many others.
As part of Friday's activities, Phi taught four words in Vietnamese: cá (fish), can câu cá (fishing rod), bóng dèn (light bulb) and lua trai (campfire).