Grade 4–7—This graceful narrative is based in part on Niêm's childhood in Vietnam. Buddhist concepts are gently introduced and explained in the context of the story, but, more importantly, they are reflected in the tone and style. Tinh may be more spiritual than many of the youngsters in his village, but, at 10, he is still a child. He wants to play with his friends and he covets his cousin's fancy toys. At the same time, he has started to take on many adult responsibilities and is proud to work with his Ba catching fish to feed and support his family. When a storm hits his village, his father entrusts Tinh to secure their boat, but the boy panics and fails to do so. In reality, there was little that could have been done under the circumstances, but he clings to the hope that he can salvage it and win back his father's confidence. The sense of duty that he feels leads him to rethink his actions and his priorities. Cultural references are beautifully integrated into this lovely coming-of-age story.—Ernie Bond, Salisbury University, MD
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She held out two pieces of bamboo and some pink paper, a bit of string, and a bottle of glue.
"You brought everything," he said.
"I remembered what you needed."
Tinh stood on tiptoe and looked toward the soccer field. If there was a soccer game oing, he certainly didn't want to spend time with his sister. But it was probably too late to join the game. Plus his cousins would tease him for staying in the temple.
Tinh sat down on a low wall and fastened Lan's bamboo sticks into the shape of a cross. When the sticks were firmly tied, he held the skeleton of the kite to the sky, imagining it floating in the soft blue. Lan wiggled in anticipation. As Tinh lowered the bamboo to his lap and stretched the pink paper over the cross, he thought of how the next day his sister would run along the beach, flying this kite. Last summer, Tinh had also flown kites. But
when he'd turned ten at Lunar New Year, he'd left that childhood behind. Now, during the long days of summer vacation, it was his job to help Ba with the fishing.
"Hold here," he said to Lan.
Lan put her small finger on the paper while Tinh glued.
"You need more string for a tail," he said when the paper was in place. "And some bits of cloth to tie on to the string."
Just then, Tinh heard the shouts of Trang Ton, Dong, and Anh and then someone shushing them. Then, Tinh heard another sound-like a giant mosquito. He stood up to look. Zooming ahead of the four boys came a miniature red car. Tinh stepped back. The car drove itself. It ran up the dusty path and across the flagstones of the courtyard as if by magic.
The little kids stopped their war games to watch. Adults leaned out the temple doors, fingers to their lips.
"Want to try, Tinh?" Trang Ton held out a small gray box. "Here, you just push this button to go forward, this one to go back. These"-he touched two more buttons-make the car go left and right."
Tinh reached for the remote control. It was heavier than it looked. He tapped the button on the left, and the car drove toward a palm tree. He maneuvered the car around the base of the tree. He drove it to the edge of the stone steps, then backed it up. He loved the feeling of power in his hands.
"Now it's my turn," said Phu, one of Trang Ton's younger cousins.
Tinh handed over the box. This car was a diamond the monk didn't know about. No one in the village could afford a remote controlled car. Trang Ton had an uncle who'd escaped by boat to America. That uncle worked in an office and sent back money and gifts like the soccer ball and the car. The uncle's generosity enabled Trang Ton's family to live in a brick house instead of a hut made of bamboo.
The bell sounded three times, and Phu held his finger over the remote control, poised for action. All eyes were on the red car, now half submerged in a pile of faded bougainvillea flowers. The vibrations stopped, and Phu backed the car up.
The adults emerged from the temple, talking and laughing among themselves. As the nuns spread a feast of fruit on a long table set up in the courtyard, Tinh turned his attention from Trang Ton's red car. He loaded his arms with vanilla mangoes, finger bananas, a stick of sugarcane, and a bunch of longan. He plucked a round longan fruit from the stem and sunk his teeth into the hard skin. The fruit burst open, white and sweet.