Thursday, November 13, 2008

Asian Pacific American Lit.: Grandfather's Journey

Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather’s Journey. NY: Houghton Miffin. ISBN: 0395570352.

* Winner of the 1994 Caldecott Medal *

Allen Say pays tribute to his grandfather’s life and the love that they share for their home country of Japan and their other home in the United States.

Grandfather’s Journey is a beautiful book that tells the history of the three generations of Allen Say’s family that begins with his grandfather’s journey to America. The narrative is simple, clean and powerful. There are no more than two sentences per page as the illustrations are large, yet the text describes the journey, the love, and emotions had for two different homes that his grandfather and mother knew that eventually Say experienced when he went to America.

The illustrations play an important role in the telling of story. Taking up three-quarters of the page these watercolor art are amazing realistic yet soft. There is a sense of formality with the illustrations the gives off the essence that thee are actually pictures that are in a family photo album. It is through the illustrations that the reader’s see the progression of time, which is especially seen in the changes of clothing (e.g. and the physical aging of Grandfather. While the attention to the details of the clothing and physical appearances of the characters, there is also details as well as soft and subtle artistic freedom in the amazing backdrops of America’s West and of rural Japan. Reader’s would be fascinated in the difference of houses that Grandfather and his family live in depending on which country they are in.

It is through this beautiful artwork that the majority of the cultural markers of the book are seen. To begin the story, Say’s grandfather is depicted wearing his traditional Japanese kimono then is seen wearing European clothing (e.g. a suit, coat, gloves, and bowler hat) while standing on the deck of the steamship that is bound to America. Readers will also notice that each character have slightly different physical appearances though there is the sense of similarity as they are all part of the same family. There is one illustration in particular, when Grandfather “met many people along the way” and “shook hands with black men, and white men, with yellow men and red men.” that also represents these men’s appearances accurately for

With the combination of the narrative that moves the story along and the illustrations that compliment and that adds more power, Say’s familiar story also provides the cultural marker of how immigrants have felt when making a home in another country. Say’s grandfather loved living in California but he also missed his home in Japan. However, when he went back to live in Japan, he missed California. Because of World War II he was unable to return. When Say was sixteen he went to California to see where his grandfather had been, he then experiences the longing for his other home just as his grandfather had. With homes in two different places, Say explains at the end of the book that, “The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other. I think I know my grandfather now.”

Readers will enjoy this powerful story that tells of how a man and his grandson can share the same love and emotions for their two different homes that are halfway across the world each other. A must additional any library.

``The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other,'' observes Say near the end of this poignant account of three generations of his family's moves between Japan and the US. Say's grandfather came here as a young man, married, and lived in San Francisco until his daughter was ``nearly grown'' before returning to Japan; his treasured plan to visit the US once again was delayed, forever as it turned out, by WW II. Say's American-born mother married in Japan (cf. Tree of Cranes, 1991), while he, born in Yokohama, came here at 16. In lucid, graceful language, he chronicles these passages, reflecting his love of both countries--plus the expatriate's ever-present longing for home--in both simple text and exquisitely composed watercolors: scenes of his grandfather discovering his new country and returning with new appreciation to the old, and pensive portraits recalling family photos, including two evoking the war and its aftermath. Lovely, quiet- -with a tenderness and warmth new to this fine illustrator's work. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4+) Copyright 2003, VNU Business Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Say transcends the achievements of his Tree of Cranes and A River Dream with this breathtaking picture book, at once a very personal tribute to his grandfather and a distillation of universally shared emotions. Elegantly honed text accompanies large, formally composed paintings to convey Say's family history; the sepia tones and delicately faded colors of the art suggest a much-cherished and carefully preserved family album. A portrait of Say's grandfather opens the book, showing him in traditional Japanese dress, ``a young man when he left his home in Japan and went to see the world.'' Crossing the Pacific on a steamship, he arrives in North America and explores the land by train, by riverboat and on foot. One especially arresting, light-washed painting presents Grandfather in shirtsleeves, vest and tie, holding his suit jacket under his arm as he gazes over a prairie: ``The endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he had crossed.'' Grandfather discovers that ``the more he traveled, the more he longed to see new places,'' but he nevertheless returns home to marry his childhood sweetheart. He brings her to California, where their daughter is born, but her youth reminds him inexorably of his own, and when she is nearly grown, he takes the family back to Japan. The restlessness endures: the daughter cannot be at home in a Japanese village; he himself cannot forget California. Although war shatters Grandfather's hopes to revisit his second land, years later Say repeats the journey: ``I came to love the land my grandfather had loved, and I stayed on and on until I had a daughter of my own.'' The internal struggle of his grandfather also continues within Say, who writes that he, too, misses the places of his childhood and periodically returns to them. The tranquility of the art and the powerfully controlled prose underscore the profundity of Say's themes, investing the final line with an abiding, aching pathos: ``The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.'' Ages 4-8. (Oct.)

CONNECTIONS *Read more books by Allen Say: Music for Alice, The Boy of the Three-Year Nap, Allison, Tea with Mil, Tree of Cranes and Home of the Brave.

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