Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Day 17: Allen Say, A Serious Crush

Most of the books I fall in love with are funny.  Today's crush is definitely not.

The gorgeous watercolor of Japanese-American artist Allen Say has a serious undertone.  As does his subject matter.  I became acquainted with him when my awesome book-loving friend Christy loaned me her personal Caldecott-winning book collection earlier this year.  Grandfather's Journey was honored with the coveted medal in 1994 for its gorgeous paintings which depict the story of Allen Say's own grandfather's journey between two homelands.  Say beautifully tells the story of his grandfather's journey from Japan to live in California as a young man, as well as his eventual return to the country of his birth, a lifetime later.

His artwork is beautiful, and sometimes haunting.  He and Jon J. Muth have a similar quality that I love. A way of capturing faces and feelings.  And, in Say's case, documenting a portion of history in the most affective way.  His words and images together weave such telling snapshots of a life that I am very unfamiliar with.  Each of his books is an education.   They build an appreciation for Japanese heritage and tradition, as well as empathy for the complexity of emotion in the life of an immigrant and their family members.

Tea with Milk continues where Grandfather's Journey leaves off.  When Say's grandfather returned to Japan from California, his family moved with him.  His almost-grown daughter, May, who had lived in California her whole life, found herself in a foreign country with culture shock.  This is not the way of life she knows.  She doesn't fit it.  She feels stifled.  This book is her story.  It is a beautiful one.  She eventually discovers her own special place in her new world, and along the way, meets someone who understands that home isn't a location, but where you make it.

Home of the Brave bravely paints a picture of the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII.  A powerful, dream-like book -- the imagery, the tags and the young faces will stay with you.

This is just a small sampling of Allen Say's impressive body of work.  His books are more than picture books.  They read more like snippets of a great novel.  And the pictures - they add a fourth dimension, ushering you into the pages of Say's world.  My boys are still too young to appreciate Allen Say, but I have been moved.  As a visual person, picture books have the power to impact me greatly.  His are unforgettable.  I think an Allen Say book-study would be such a growing experience for a 2nd-5th grader, along with their parent.  Building empathy for other people is such an important quality to grow in our children, and in ourselves.  Allen Say gives that gift.  Storyteller.  Empathy builder.  Artist.  Allen Say -- my serious crush.

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