Home becomes elusive in this story about immigration and acculturation, pieced together through old pictures and salvaged family tales. Both the narrator and his grandfather long to return to Japan, but when they do, they feel anonymous and confused: "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other." Allen Say's prose is succinct and controlled, to the effect of surprise when monumental events are scaled down to a few words: "The young woman fell in love, married, and sometime later I was born." The book also has large, formal paintings in delicate, faded colors that portray a cherished and well-preserved family album. The book, for audiences ages 4 to 8, won the 1994 Caldecott Medal.
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.