Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

 Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

Rating: 4.5 stars

It isn't everyday that the books I'm reading correspond with the books my children are reading.  This one might be the first.  I just finished Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, about a World War II bombardier's incredible struggle against all odds.  It was fantastic: moving, gut-wrenching, horrifying, shocking and, in the end, uplifting and incredibly inspiring.  I loved every page.

Therefore, when I read this book to Lorelei and Ben last week, I could feel the stories behind the simple one that Say tells.  His grandfather comes to the United States from Japan and soon falls in love with the mountains, the deserts, the farm fields, and huge cities.  Everything impresses him and he stays in California to raise his family.  When his daughter is nearly grown, he misses Japan, and takes his family back to live.  His daughter meets and marries a young man, and they have a son.  The grandfather tells the boy stories of California and they plan on going there, but a war began and the old man dies before he can return.  So the boy travels alone to California...for himself, but in order to know his grandfather a little better.

The endless farm fields reminded him of the
ocean he had crossed.
It's a serious story for a children's book, especially for this house--we like the funny ones that make us giggle and smile most of the time.  But it's an important tale and I love how Say writes it.

But it's his pictures that are the best.  Huge, elegant illustrations brighten the simple prose and draw in the reader.  They really made me pause as I was reading, to appreciate each and everyone (and yes, the one of the mountains was my favorite).  They are quiet and serene pictures, serious but beautiful.  Very worthy of the Caldecott on its front.

Lorelei and Ben asked me what a war is some time ago, I can't remember when.  It was one of those shoot-I-didn't-realize-this-question-was-going-to-come-so-soon moments.  I thought about it for a minute, then asked them to go get the world map that we often look at.  It's a placemat, so it's not very intricate but they can get an idea of how much (land and people, mostly) there is in the world.

I asked how many kids they had in their classes--it was around 14.  I asked if they all got along together all of the time.  "No," was the clear answer.  "Right, I said.  Of course not.  Everyone argues about things some of the times."  Then I showed them the map and explained how many people there are in the world--billions!--and said that all of us argued about things some times, too.  Sometimes we can work it out and "meet in the middle" (what we always say for compromise) but other times they fight about it.  When countries fight, that's a war.

I give myself a B+ or so for the answer.  Not perfect, but what I came up with on the fly.  Such a big concept for little minds, but important and...I wanted to be truthful.  Books like this raise questions, of course, but, as parents, we can't be afraid of those questions.  Ready or not, they will come.

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