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Children's Nonfiction Emigration & Immigration

Adrift at Sea

A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival

by (author) Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

with Tuan Ho

illustrated by Brian Deines

Pajama Press Inc.
Initial publish date
Sep 2022
Emigration & Immigration, Historical, Asia
Recommended Age
6 to 9
Recommended Grade
1 to 4
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Download Teacher’s Guide

Where to buy it


Now in paperback, the award-winning first picture book to recount the dramatic true story of a refugee family’s perilous escape from Vietnam

It is 1981. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fishing boat overloaded with 60 Vietnamese refugees drifts. The motor has failed; the hull is leaking; the drinking water is nearly gone. This is the dramatic true story recounted by Tuan Ho, who was six years old when he, his mother, and two sisters dodged the bullets of Vietnam’s military police for the perilous chance of boarding that boat.

Told to multi-award-winning author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and illustrated by the celebrated Brian Deines, Tuan’s story has become Adrift At Sea, the first picture book to describe the flight of Vietnam’s “Boat People” refugees.

Illustrated with sweeping oil paintings and complete with an expansive Author’s Note, this non-fiction picture book returns in a paperback edition as the world continues to grapple with the plight of refugees risking all for the chance at safety and a new life.


About the authors


Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch est l’auteure d’une dizaine de livres dont Cher Journal : Prisonniers de la grande forêt, Enfant volée, Soldat clandestin et Faire des bombes pour Hitler. Elle a remporté de nombreux prix et est l’une des auteures canadiennes de romans historiques pour les jeunes les plus respectées. L’écriture de Marsha met en relief son héritage ukrainien. Elle a reçu l’Ordre de la princesse Olga de la part du président ukrainien. Elle vit à Brantford, en Ontario.


MARSHA FORCHUK SKRYPUCH is the author of more than a dozen books, including Dear Canada: Prisoners in the Promised Land, Stolen Child, Making Bombs for Hitler, Underground Soldier and Don’t Tell the Enemy. She has won many awards for her work and is one of Canada’s most respected authors of historical fiction for young people. Much of Marsha’s writing focuses on stories from her Ukrainian heritage, and she has been presented with the Order of Princess Olha by the President of Ukraine and named a Canadian Ukrainian Woman of Distinction. Marsha lives in Brantford, Ontario. Visit her online at

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's profile page

Tuan Ho escaped Vietnam at age six in 1981 among thousands of other “boat people” refugees. Through author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, he has told the story of how he, his mother, and two sisters survived five days adrift on the ocean with dwindling fresh water before being rescued by a U.S. aircraft carrier. Joining the rest of his family in Canada, he went on to attend school in Toronto and is now an accomplished physiotherapist. His wife Edae, a primary school teacher, is the child of other Vietnamese boat people refugees who settled in Ireland and then Canada. Tuan and Edae have two young daughters, Madeline and Emily.


Tuan Ho's profile page

BRIAN DEINES has illustrated numerous books for children, including SkySisters


(written by Jan BourdeauWaboose), Dragonfly Kites (written by Thomson Highway),


and One Hockey Night (written by DavidWard). He has been nominated for

numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ruth and

Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Literature Award, the Martha Baillie Picture Book

Award, and the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award. A native of Red Deer, Alberta,

Brian lives in Toronto.

Brian Deines' profile page


  • Short-listed, Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award: Grade 3-5
  • Winner, Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award
  • Commended, Canadian School Libraries Journal: Resource Links Highlights: Refugees and Immigrants" selection
  • Commended, The Booklist Reader "The Refugee Experience for Children and Young Adults" selection
  • Commended, School Library Journal “Collaborating on High-Interest Topics | The Refugee Experience” selection
  • Commended, Stacked Books "Monthly Giving: International Refugee Assistance Program" selection
  • Short-listed, Cybils Award: Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection
  • Runner-up, Children's Literature Roundtable of Canada Information Book Award Honour Book selection
  • Short-listed, Red Cedar Information Book Award
  • Commended, New England Children's Booksellers Advisory Council's Hot Titles selection

Excerpt: Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival (by (author) Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch; with Tuan Ho; illustrated by Brian Deines)

On the second day, our boat springs a leak. I wish I could drink the water that laps around my feet, but it’s full of salt. Ma and Nghia take turns bailing. It’s hard work and few offer to help. Don’t they realize our boat could sink? The captain gives them a bottle of water in thanks. We hide this treasure in our bags.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Adrift at Sea

2018 Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award Winner

2019 Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award: Grade 3-5 shortlist

2017 Red Cedar Information Book Award shortlist

2017 Cybils Award: Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction shortlist

2017 Children's Literature Roundtable of Canada Information Book Award Honour Book selection

2018 The Booklist Reader "The Refugee Experience for Children and Young Adults" selection

2018 School Library Journal "Collaborating on High-Interest Topics | The Refugee Experience" selection

2018 Canadian School Libraries Journal: Resource Links Highlights: Refugees and Immigrants" selection

2017 Stacked Books "Monthly Giving: International Refugee Assistance Program" selection

2017 Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection

2016 New England Children's Booksellers Advisory Council's Hot Titles selection

2016 Resource Links "The Year's Best" selection

2021 Unpacking the Power of Picture Books "Viet Nam: Three Must-See, Must-Read Picture Books" selection

"In this picture book for somewhat older readers, Ho narrates the story of his perilous escape from postwar Vietnam, in 1981, describing his pain at leaving behind loved ones and relief upon being rescued by an American aircraft carrier after six days adrift on the ocean. The text is terse and unembellished, leaving the images to capture the emotions through color and perspective—and they do so with compelling immediacy."—Booklist

"[A] remarkable tale of perseverance that involved attacks from soldiers, a broken boat at sea, and a trip that was intended to last four days but went horribly awry....This is a solid informational resource that can be used for introducing a refugee's experience."—School Library Journal

"[D]etailed authors' notes include history, photographs, and maps. The warm undertones in Deines' oil paintings evoke tropical Vietnam."—Kirkus Reviews

"Skrypuch uses one child's story to give moving insight into the experience of the many children who escaped war-ravaged Vietnam to start new lives....Deines's hazy oil paintings poignantly capture the family's physical ordeal and anguish during their perilous journey."—Publishers Weekly

"Tuan's dramatic story of survival comes alive in Skrypuch's capable hands. The heart-pounding action alone is enough to captivate readers, but Skrypuch also incorporates moments of great poignancy that add depth and emotion....Deines's accompanying artwork is achingly beautiful....That danger can exist amid such beauty is an important lesson to learn. That the human spirit can triumph under the most trying of conditions is even more important."—Quill & Quire

"The evocative text and powerful illustrations, painted with oils, enable readers to feel as though they, too, are refugees adrift at sea during this risky journey to freedom..."—ILA Literacy Daily, "War and Its Aftermath

"Filled with urgency, fear, and ultimately hope, Tuan's real-life odyssey proves to be an illuminating inspiration for all readers."—Smithsonian BookDragon

"[A] powerful story, and it doesn’t shy away from the dangers experienced—sometimes fatally—by the refugees."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"This beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book introduces the reader to a real family....An interesting read that explains why and how people are sometimes forced to flee and find a new homeland."—The International Educator

"Given no other options but to leave their homeland in hopes of a better life, Tuan describes and recounts the horrors of leaving everything behind and having to escape into an unknown world....Filled with colorful and vibrant drawings that engages readers from start to finish, Adrift at Sea is a powerful historical nonfiction story."—International Examiner

"Adrift at Sea is a heartwarming story that will prompt young people to be grateful for the good things in their lives, and highly recommended."—Midwest Book Review

"The beautiful, full-page oil paintings effectively convey the dangerous escape, the blistering heat, and the loneliness of being adrift on the ocean....This is an especially useful book to help students understand why refugees are still crowding into boats and risking everything for a better life even today."—School Library Connection

"Recommend to teachers to supplement studies about the Vietnam War or current events with an example of how non-combatants can be affected by the outcome of wars."—Youth Services Book Review

"This book is true, and it is really sad....[it] is a good book to help you understand how people feel and the things they have to do if they feel like they need to run away from bad things that are happening where they live."—Kids' BookBuzz

"Brian Deines...created beautiful oil on canvas illustrations for the book. The colours of the illustrations are bight and vibrant. Other highlights of the book are the personal photographs, biography of Tuan's family, map, and historical note which bookend the narrative of the story....Adrift at Sea is an important addition to Canadian picture book market....Recommended."—CM Magazine

"Brian Deines' subtle double-page oil paintings add greatly to the mood and text of this story....This book is very timely as we have so many refugees from war torn countries in the Middle East now attempting to make their way to a better life under the same kind of conditions that the Vietnamese people experienced back in 1981....I would highly recommend this book for all school and public libraries."—Resource Links

"Adrift at Sea tells this difficult tale with a direct honesty that creates an opportunity for accompanied discussion, especially for some younger readers. Skrypuch maintains a strong sense of hope throughout, demonstrating the true strength of young Tuan."—Canadian Children's Book News

"This fascinating read gives a glimpse of the struggle and bravery of a refugee....This is a powerful tale that enables children to learn about a time in history that they may not know about."—The Crimson Review of Children's and YA Literature

"The illustrations in this book, full color paintings, are absolutely stunning....Brian Deines, has outdone himself in two-page spreads that bring this refugee story to life....[A] good introduction to the subject of the Vietnamese boat people..."—Semicolon

"This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Tuan's days at sea and their eventual rescue by American sailors. End pages include photographs and information that round out the story and tell of Tuan's life in with his family in Toronto."—Nerdy Book Club

"From the illustration of a lone boat adrift in a wash of dry heat that graces the cover of Adrift at Sea, to the dark and engrossing images of Tuan's steps along the journey, Brian Deines' art is evocative and integrative, resplendent in complementary colours of orange and golds and blues and purples."—CanLit for LittleCanadians

"The authors include personal photographs of Tuan's family, before their escape and following their settling in Canada, to help readers understand this historical moment in time....Brian Deines (as he always does) has created truly beautiful artwork using oils on canvas to bring Tuan's story to this book's readers."—Sal's Fiction Addiction

Librarian Reviews

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival

Tuan Ho’s story of the flight of Vietnam’s “Boat People” refugees is a powerful resource to help students understand the refugee experience and its connection to contemporary world issues. The first-person perspective allows readers to identify with the challenges of survival in a time of crisis. This book serves as an excellent example of a non-fiction autobiographical narrative. The vivid illustrations provide rich visuals and bring-to-life the hardships experienced by Vietnamese refugees. A helpful afterword accompanies the text, providing historical context and biographical details alongside photographs.

Source: Association of Canadian Publishers. Diversity Collection Selection 2017.

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