More Asian Book Reviews

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say (JAPAN/USA)

This is a story that will be particularly appreciated by anyone who has tried to straddle more than one culture and finds themselves at home in both and neither.

Allen Say recounts his grandfather’s life in America and his Japanese homeland. This is a large book and it opens with a portrait of Say’s grandfather in traditional Japanese dress, transitioning to him in European dress on page two, aboard a steamboat for the USA. Each page has a large, subdued illustration of new experiences; vast coastlines and desert rocks, with just one or two short sentences conveying much. There is one beautiful ‘painting’ of the grandfather waist high in a field of undulating wheat,

“The endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he had crossed. “

Despite covering vast distances and encountering many new people and places, each new advenrure making him hungry for more, he does return to Japan to marry his childhood sweetheart, whom he brings back to California. As his daughter grows, so does his yearning to see his homeland, thus they return to Japan and here, Say himself is born. WWII breaks out and prevents the grandfather ever returning to his beloved US.

Say has listened to his grandfather’s stories and so he in turn takes a trip to California and is wooed by its charms, staying to raise his own daughter.  He still visits Japan, but,

“The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”

This is a timeless and memorable biography of one family and two cultures brought to life in few words, which, not surprisingly, won a Caldecott medal in 1994. The jacket cover is not very appealing to a child’s eye and I have often passed over this book because of this in our school library. It was a review on someone else’s site that enticed me, and it is a truly moving story.

The Ant and the Grasshopper retold and illustrated by Amy Lowry Poole (CHINA)

This classic Aesop Fable is replanted into the emperor’s palace in China, with great effect. This book has two great strengths. Firstly the illustrations are exquisite. You will not be surprised to discover that Poole spent four years living near the summer palace in Beijing, for these double-paged spreads marry the misty, traditional Chinese style with some western characterization, with great effect. The second strength lies in a slight twist to the original tale. Here the ants are portrayed as industrious but also workaholics, to the point of missing much of summer’s beauty. Grasshopper, in contrast plays and dances and enjoys his summer, but fails to commit time to winter preparations. I think this modern twist an appropriate message and conversation point for young readers. Aesop bears repeating through the generations and this is a welcome retelling of this well-known story.

# 106 & 107 in There’s a Book’s Read to Me Picture Book Challenge. 

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10 Responses to More Asian Book Reviews

  1. Susanna says:

    Joanna, I love reading your book reviews. They are always so thoughtful, and you have great taste in books because I always finish up wanting to read whatever you’ve written about 🙂

  2. Joanna says:

    Thank you, Susanna. I do try and choose books I will enjoy, of course! But I am so glad I signed up for this challenge. It has been a great start to blogging for me.

  3. I’ve heard of Grandfather’s journey before. It’s so true, you pine for the other country like the grass is greener even though you know it isn’t. Moving is hard.

  4. Joanna says:

    Moving is hard, and doesn’t get easier, so true Catherine. I have done it across many nations and know these tensions well, that Alan Say describes.

  5. I think more and more people are straddling cultures these days. Great review!

  6. Patricia Tilton says:

    Oh Joanna, I love the Asian theme. I am not familiar with either of the two books, but I especially enjoyed “Grandfather’s Journey.” This was a very common theme at that period of time, and so I enjoyed seeing a story for children. I also enjoyed The Ant and the Grasshopper. You always do such a lovely job of catching the essence in the books you review. They are so thoughtfully written. Thank you for sharing these two beautiful books.

  7. Joanna, great reviews! I love all of Allen Say’s picture books. Grandfather’s Journey is a really good one. Home of the Brave is probably my favorite-the story is dream-like and haunting. I usually recommend this book to my older students because of the Japanese internment camp theme.

    • Joanna says:

      Kelly, thanks for the recommendation of Home of the Brave, will definitely check to see if we have it in the school library, if not, well I get to add a LOT of great books each year to our acquisitions list!

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