All of Allen Say‘s books are gorgeous gems.
This one’s told so simply, mostly as biographical facts, but some of them will just break your heart. Every book Say makes has such straightforwardness, beauty, history, emotion.
And the illustrations. Each is an exquisite painting (not done justice by my photos). The book won a Caldecott Medal in 1994.
Grandfather’s Journey is a story of three generations and two places: Japan and California. The old place and the new world. Two homes, across the sea. Back and forth. Loving both. Belonging to both.
It’s s an immigrant’s story of course, told by a grandson about his grandfather.
Anyone who’s left one place for another place will deeply understand. I once moved from a place I loved in Asia, Hong Kong, to another unfamiliar place, California. It took a long time, but I came to love that place too. I haven’t been back in eighteen years, but I badly want to go back and visit the first.
“He remembered the mountains and rivers of his home. He surrounded himself with songbirds, but he could not forget.”
“Finally, when his daughter was nearly grown, he could wait no more. He took his family and returned to his homeland.”
“But a war began. Bombs fell from the sky and scattered our lives like leaves.”
“So they returned to the village where they had been children. But my grandfather never kept another songbird.”
An organization I think of when it comes to stories, and family stories, is StoryCorps. They know what they’re doing. They’ve recorded 45,000 of them in the ten years they’ve been around. Regular people’s voices and true tales.
Here’s the deal. You take someone with you and interview her/him. StoryCorps records it. If there isn’t a booth near you, there’s a mobile airstream that travels around collecting stories. My friend Tracy, who interviewed her mother, describes the experience as: “a wonderful opportunity to connect with someone you care about and capture their story.”
“We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.”
You can listen to the StoryCorps podcast. But my favorites are the select stories animated by The Rauch Brothers. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll laugh and cry and be moved by these animated shorts.
These particular videos all deal, in some way, with living in two different worlds, like Grandfather’s Journey does:
“Eyes on the Stars.” An African American little boy during segregation wanting to join a vast new world in space.
“Sundays at Rocco’s.” The special gathering an Italian family created every Sunday over a meal. Until they no longer could and everything changed.
“Facundo the Great.” Elementary kids in the 50s with Latino names went by Americanized names at school. Until a new kid arrived.
“John and Joe.” The world before and after losing both your kids on September 11th.
And “Q & A.” In which a seventh grader who has Asperger’s syndrome interviews his mother. It’s a beautiful exploration of one other’s worlds.
I’m off to have a good cry.