Tag Archives: grandfather’s journey

allen say’s picture book life + giveaway!


Allen Say. Where do I begin? Grandfather’s Journey was the book that introduced me to Say’s work. It hit a nerve because it’s about home and the absence of home. All Say’s books are rooted in a certain time and place. In specificity. They are beautiful, realistic watercolor paintings accompanying unadorned text. They are straightforward and they always seem true. They have compassion for their characters. They reflect on the past in a way that is satisfyingly bittersweet.

Say deals with culture in such a fluid, loving way. Culture and place are things we can leave and return to, things that will always be with us no matter where we travel or how we change. We can return to a culture or adopt parts of a new one. We can have two cultures simultaneously, always with our hearts leading the way.


Nature. Generations. Japan. California. Immigration. Family. Duality. Kindness. Moments of beauty and connection.






Grandfather’s Journey

This is a book I fell hard for, long before I was immersed in picture books as I am now. It was a gateway for sure! Three generations. Two places. Journeys back and forth. About the book, here, Say remarks: “it is essentially a dream book, for the life’s journey is an endless dreaming of the places we have left behind and the places we have yet to reach.” Also, the way Say portrays light in these pages is incredible.



“Painting is a kind of writing, and writing is a kind painting—

they are both about seeing.”


Home of the Brave

A story of a dream of visiting a Japanese Internment Camp. A bad dream that ends with hope.

“Most people seem to be interested in turning their dreams into reality. Then there are those who turn reality into dreams. I belong to the latter group.”




A story of adoption in which a girl who questions why she isn’t with her “real” family eventually adopts a new family member of her own—a stray cat. It’s heartbreaking and poignant.




Music for Alice

Another favorite. This one encompasses so much, as chronicling one specific life does. Alice loved music and dancing, but so many things got in the way. World War II and being an enemy in her own country, building a farm and a life with her husband, colorful fields of gladiolas in the desert. And then, after a life lived, a husband passed away, Alice can finally dance.




Kamishibai Man

A celebration of Japan’s tradition of “paper theater,” an old form of storytelling that requires presence and attention (and, fittingly, one might say is a relative of picture books).




Erika is an American who sees a print of a tea house in Japan and it guides her through life. She travels there to teach after college and meets a Japanese man who drinks coffee like an American, not tea. This is part of Say’s brilliance—the way he deals with traditions. You can find new ones and discover old ones whether they “belong” to you or not.




Tea With Milk

Masako is also called May. She moves to Japan and finds herself a foreigner. In San Francisco: “At home she had rice and miso soup and plain green tea for breakfast. At her friends’ houses she ate pancakes and muffins and drank tea with milk and sugar.” In Japan: “They called her gaijin [foreigner] and laughed at her.” But then, she finds a way for herself.



The Favorite Daughter

This is a story of a father and daughter, a daughter who doesn’t feel quite at home with her name, Yuriko. But, in line with the themes Say returns to again and again, she comes home to her name, to herself, to her identity—as Japanese-American, as an artist, as herself.



Drawing from Memory

This is Say’s illustrated biography and it also gives the backstory of where some of his stories came from. He was a boy who loved comic books and had to prove himself to his father who didn’t believe in him. He was so independent that he had his own apartment at the age of 13. But he found a sensei, and that made all the difference. In a way, the whole book is a tribute to his teacher and he even describes it in the afterword like they wrote it together. Like his stories and fiction, Say’s memoir brings tears too.

“I wasn’t a good student. It was depressing to count the years before I could be a cartoonist.”






The Inker’s Shadow

A sequel to Drawing From Memory, this memoir picks up when Say arrives in America at the age of fifteen in 1953 and, once again, is very much on his own but in a new land, California.

“A panic came over me. But the singing crickets calmed me a little—they sounded just like Japanese crickets.”

Remarkably, he manages well in a place where he doesn’t know the culture or language well and, to some, is still seen as an enemy. There are kindnesses of a few strangers in addition to his own determination despite a father who is not just unsupportive but cruel. His own drive and talent carve his way. The most amazing part is the end, where you find out Say’s mother had been born in San Francisco and that’s where Say heads after his high school graduation. There’s that connection with his mother from the first book coming back around and that duality from all his stories. His mother had told him, “Let your dear chid journey,” a Japanese saying. He journeyed. All the way to her other home.


Because I love sharing books, especially by creators I admire, I’m giving away a copy of THE INKER’S SHADOW! Simply leave a comment on this post about Allen Say’s work to enter!

(Open to U.S. only; ends Sunday, March 20 at midnight.)



17 picture books featuring grandparents





Here are some of my favorite picture books that feature Nana or Grandad and the special relationship kids can have with them. 



Last Stop on Market Street, words by Matt De La Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson. I love the lines next to CJ’s grandmother’s mouth that, in Robinson’s signature style, are all we need to know she’s Nana. And that last stop is so worth it!  This book explores many things, including seeing unexpected beauty and the power of generosity.


infinity-and-meInfinity and Me written by Kate Gosford, illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska. Uma ponders her red shoes and the concept of infinity, and it’s her grandma’s love that helps it all make sense.



Joone by Emily Kate Moon. A portrait of a spunky girl who happens to live with her grandfather makes for a sweet read.


now-one-foot-now-the-otherNow One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaola. This one is sure to make you cry and highlights the way childhood mirrors growing old. So tender.



Grandama’s Gloves by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Julia Denos. Another touching picture book about grandparents! This one deals with the loss of a grandmother, but the theme is how she’ll always be present in memory, in growing things.


grandfather's-journeyGrandfather’s Journey by Allen Say. This is one of my all time favorite books.  A grandson telling the story of his grandfather torn between two places.



Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin, illustrated by Kristina Swarner. This is another book dealing with loss. A girl’s grandfather comes to live with her family in his final days. It’s very explicit about death and questions of an afterlife and comes to beautiful conclusions about life.


grammy-lambyGrammy Lamby and the Secret Handshake by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise. This picture book is about a grandson who comes around to his grandmother (lamb-mother). It’s funny and teary and true.



abuelo-picture-bookAbuelo by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Raúl Colōn. This one shows how instrumental a grandparent can be, how much he has to teach, how wide his reach.



A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubinno. This is basically a sweet, fun guidebook to the city, with Grandpa leading the way.


my-abuelitaMy Abuelita by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Yuyi Morales. A grandson admires and wants to emulate his Abuelita and her vocation as storyteller.


maia-and-what-mattersMaia and What Matters by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire. Not only does this book look gorgeous, it tells a gorgeous story of a bond between Maia and her grandmother, before and after her grandma’s health begins to fail.



The Frank Show by David Mackintosh. A lighter look at the subject of grandparents and, again, a grandson who needs some time to come around to how cool retro Grandpa Frank truly is. (But we as readers know right away.)


nana-in-the-cityNana in the City by Lauren Castillo. This grandma is super cool. I mean, look at her. Plus, she teaches her grandson how to be brave.

hello-goodbye-windowThe Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka. Here we have a pair! Nana and Poppy are always looking through that window, which is so reassuring and sweet.


the-grandad-treeThe Grandad Tree by Trish Cookie, illustrated by Sharon Wilson. Another book that explores how we remember grandparents, this time through an apple tree that serves as symbol.


grandpa-greenGrandpa Green by Lane Smith. A book about the Edward Scissorhands of (great) grandparents. And it gives a child a glimpse into the enigmatic, unknown life of older family members.


Did I miss any other great (or grand) ones? Do share! 

grandfather’s journey + storycorps

grandfathersjourneybyallensayIt’s hard to pinpoint, but I think my love of picture books as an adult started with this one. Get out the tissue! At least I do when I read it. Every single time.

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.