Ages 13+ | The Best We Could Do (Abrams)

The Best We Could Do
Published by: Harry N. Abrams
Written by: Thi Bui
Illustrated by: Thi Bui
Format: HC, Color, 336 pages, $26.99
ISBN: 9781419718779
Ages: 13+


“Family is now something I have created - -
and not just something I was born into.”
-   Thi Bui   -  

When she becomes a new mother, Thi Bui is inclined to remember her own childhood; as a new parent her young son’s welfare in the United States is rather different than that of her own and her siblings as young children in Vietnam. 

In her debut graphic novel, Bui chronicles her own family’s extremely daring escape from South Vietnam in the 1970s.  With three young children and a fourth on the way, Bui’s parents had to decide what was best for their young family.  And based on their different familial backgrounds Bo and Ma had different ideas about what may be best for their family.  Moving delicately back and forth between the present and the past, Bui sheds light on the decisions her mother and father had to make with little information and / or time for consideration. 

As the magnitude of their decisions and the resulting implications gain momentum both positively and negatively, Bui both gracefully narrates and illustrates an epic familial journey of discovery that is truly unforgettable. 

The Best We Could Do has earned a host of nominations for this year’s upcoming graphic novel award season, including two nominations from Denver Comic Con’s Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards (Best Adult Nonfiction and Mosaic Award) and San Diego Comic Con’s Eisner Awards (Best Reality-based Work).     

Elements of Story

Plot: After the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, Thi Bui’s family daringly immigrates from Vietnam to the United States. 

Major Characters: Thi Bui, Travis, Ma/Hang, Bo, nurses and doctors, Lan, Bich, Quyen, Thao, Tam, Hai, midwife, Bo’s Grandfather, Bo’s Great Uncle, Bo’s mother and Bo’s father, Village Chief, Ho Chi Minh, Tranh, Truong Chinh, Eddie Adams, President Thieu, Khmer Rouge, Vice President Huong, General Duong Van Minh, Thu, Hai, Kieu, Hai’s in-laws, Mr. Dien, Mr. Son, Ms. Ly, Mr. Chau, One-eyed Hai, Vu, Tom Rivers, Aunt and Uncle

Major Settings: New York, Methodist Hospital; Berkeley, CA; San Diego, CA; Thi’s adulthood home; Thi’s childhood home; Malaysia, UNF Refugee Camp; Saigon; Mekong Delta; orange apartment; Hai Phong; Loi Dong; Cua Cam; Cambodia; Nha Trang; Da Lat; Lycee Yersin; Henri Riviere; Ha Noi; Thai Binh; Ha Long Bay; Ngo Dinh Diem; Teachers College; Ha Tie; small boat; Can Tho; Malaysia, Merang Village; Kuala Lumpur; Chicago, IL; Anchorage, Alaska; Los Angeles, CA; Hammond, IN

Themes: War and Politics, Immigration, Generational Identity, Veitnam and U.S. Relations, Culture and Education

Lesson Plan Recommendation Using the
Common Core Standards (CCSS) for High School Readers

Common Core Standard(s)

Craft and Structure
Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

Directions for Lesson Plan

Moving back and forth between the past and the present guides Bui’s narrative.  In fact, The Best We Could Do now stands as my strongest teaching tool for narrative structure, for even though it may seem as though switching between the past and the present to tell a nonfiction, generational story would be too complex Bui’s narrative structure makes it look easy. 

Bui is a master of seamless narrative story structure. For that reason, a lesson plan focused on the structure of the plot is helpful to assess whether or not students are able to identify complex storytelling narratives. 

How to Use the Narrative Story Structure Graphic Organizer: From the beginning of the story until the end of the story students need to note the narrative story structure transitions regarding the past and the present. As they begin to read, ask students to record whether the story is being told in the present or in the past in the left column.  In the larger column on the right students can note the plot details that best summarize or retell each narrative section (past or present). 

It may be necessary to print out more than one copy of the “Narrative Story Structure Graphic Organizer.” 

Narrative Story Structure Graphic Organizer
Past/Present Plot Details