When you consider how many utterly terrifying characters, actions and events populate the fantastic world of children’s literature, it makes perfect sense to recommend (very highly indeed) Icy Smith’s “Half Spoon of Rice: A Survival Story of the Cambodian Genocide”.
The award-winning author writes her story of 9-year-old Nat, his parents, and Malis, a young, lost girl Nat befriends. Ms. Smith utilizes a straightforward prose, using no embellishments, allowing the tale itself to unfold with all the terror, violence and suspense of war revealed by young Nat himself. From the sudden, forced evacuation of Phnom Penh to the child labor camps in the Cambodian countryside to liberation four years later and his eventual immigration to America, Nat’s story is simply told here, simply matter of fact. It is an epic, breathtaking, heroic and poignant adventure!
Adding a haunting, thrilling quality to this book is its collection of inspired illustrations by Sopaul Nhem, a renowned Cambodian artist whose father (also an artist) is a survivor of the “killing fields” era. This is Nhem’s first childen’s book collaboration, and his art brilliantly supports the text.
At its heart, Icy Smith’s “Half Spoon of Rice” is an intimate story of family, friendship and courage during one of the least documented civil wars/genocides in contemporary history (1975-1979). Writing such a book for the children’s market might be considered daring, to be sure; writing one so masterfully is a bonus, but hardly surprising when the author is Icy Smith, who was honored with the Clarion Award for best nonfiction book for “The Lonely Queue”, and whose “Mei Ling in China City” received the Moonbeam Childen’s Book Award, Chinese American Library Association Best Children’s Book Award and Independent Publisher Book Award.
Ms. Smith deserves special commendation for this children’s book -- “Half Spoon of Rice” is a genuine service to history and education. Its topic is as American as it is Cambodian, and “Half Spoon of Rice” deserves to be in every library, period.
HALF SPOON OF RICE, an East West Discovery Press publication.
ISBN 9780982167588, 44 pages, $19.95.