The Paper Boat

Named a best picture book of 2020 by Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, New York Public Library, the Globe and Mail, CBC, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books — a heartfelt and personal immigration story by critically acclaimed author Thao Lam

New from Thao Lam, the award-winning author of picture books My Cat Looks Like My Dad, Wallpaper, and Skunk on a String, comes a personal story inspired by her family’s refugee journey.

In The Paper Boat, Thao’s signature collage art tells the wordless story of one family’s escape from Vietnam—a journey intertwined with an ant colony’s parallel narrative.

At her home in Vietnam, a girl rescues ants from the sugar water set out to trap them. Later, when the girl’s family flees war-torn Vietnam, ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will take them to safety. Before boarding, the girl folds a paper boat from a bun wrapper and drops it into the water, and the ants climb on. Their perilous journey, besieged by punishing weather, predatory birds, and dehydration, before reaching a new beginning, mirrors the family’s own. Impressionistic collages and a moving, Own Voices narrative make this a one-of-a-kind tale of courage, resilience, and hope.

Written and Illustrated by

Thao Lam


September 15, 2020 with Owlkids Books

Starred reviews

  • “Children will be compelled to return again and again to digest its story. A timely, resonant, exceptional model of visual storytelling.” — Kirkus Reviews – STARRED REVIEW
  • “Each panel is so detailed that readers will want to linger over them all, admiring Lam’s craft even while being immersed in emotions. A tender tribute to the author’s parents and to all refugees who survive and thrive despite enormous odds.” — Booklist – STARRED REVIEW
  • “This sensitively rendered story is accessible to young viewers, and it’s a perfect stepping stone for older readers.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books – STARRED REVIEW
  • “The artistry in the illustrations is spectacular … An important story told in an impeccable format.” — School Library Journal – STARRED REVIEW

Notable reviews

  • “[Lam] carefully guides her readers through the emotional trauma of [the Vietnam War] from the perspective of a child … Lam shares her story in an equally moving afterword but it’s the wordless story that will resonate with readers.” — The Globe and Mail
  • “With cut paper illustrations, Lam shows two parallel stories … The tiny ants deepen the sense of the family’s vulnerability and, although Lam describes an event of the 1970s, the story resonates all too well in our current world.” — Toronto Star
  • “Crisply cut paper represents intricate domestic scenes and just as skillfully conveys suspense … in this story of bravery and resilience.” — Publishers Weekly

Awards and honours

  • A School Library Journal Best Book of 2020
  • A Kirkus Best Picture Book of 2020
  • A New York Public Library 100 Best Books for Kids selection, 2020
  • A Booklist Editors’ Choice, 2020
  • A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2020
  • A Canadian Children’s Book Centre Favourite Book of 2020
  • A Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Selection, 2020
  • A CBC Best Canadian Picture Book of 2020
  • A USBBY Outstanding International Books List selection, 2021
  • An Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award Honour Book, 2020
  • An International Board on Books for Young People Silent Books Collection selection, 2020
  • A Kids Book Choice Awards Best Book of the Year: 3rd–4th Grade nominee, 2021
  • A CCBC Best Book for Kids and Teens starred selection, 2021
  • A TD Summer Reading Club Top Recommended Read, 2022

Contact Thao Lam

Illuminate stories with vibrant artwork, turning narratives into visual wonders. Let's bring your tales to life—reach out for unique illustrations!