Around two weeks back, we had a guest blogger, the very hardworking, dedicated, and talented Erik the Great from This Kid Reviews Books. He also shared a review of Grandfather’s Journey in his post which is in keeping with our bimonthly theme. And because we are simply in love with Allen Say, I feature yet another review of this outstanding picture book biography. I read this book last year and didn’t have a chance to review it. I’m glad that I didn’t since it’s perfect for our current bimonthly theme on Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience. Check out Shelf-employed for more Nonfiction Monday links.

The Restless Heart of a Wanderer. The book opens to breathtaking portraits of Allen Say’s grandfather in a traditional Japanese clothing and in a suit (which was termed as “European clothes”). I know that my 10 year old daughter has used this picture book as part of their Journeys theme during the beginning of the school year, and while I have also read it last year, I still give an audible gasp each time I gaze at Say’s artwork. Somehow, the book never fails to give something new each time I open its pages.

Each page is filled with luminous paintings of places that Grandfather has been accompanied by sparse text that is one or two sentences long. While it is perfect for very young children, I envision that it would also be great for older kids who would wish to explore geography, develop a sense of space and time, while providing a means to understand one’s roots and cultural identity.

While the story is linear, starting with grandfather’s leaving his home in Japan as a young man to “see the world” and ending in old age with grandfather’s longing left in the air for the reader to touch and grasp – each portrait seems to be filled with untold narratives, inviting the reader to sit back and imagine the possible labyrinthine stories the picture brings. Here is an example:

This page has a caption which says: “After a time, he returned to his village in Japan to marry his childhood sweetheart. Then he brought his bride to the new country.”

Fleeting and brief, there is space for the reader to imagine what her thoughts must have been living in a country so different from hers to be with a man she loves.

Here is a portrait that provides a glimpse of what life must have been like as an immigrant for Grandfather:

He met many people along the way. He shook hands with black men and white men, with yellow men and red men.

One of the greatest gifts of being a traveler (for me) is this wondrous opportunity to expand your sensibilities by meeting people so different from you and celebrating that diversity by finding a place that connects you. While it sounds easy, I discover that few people have the courage to open their hearts to this experience: to find a common core that goes beyond skin color or the shade of one’s hair or peculiar accents. It’s that thread of humanity that collects, and gathers, and binds and makes you one. It’s a frightening yet exhilarating experience – and one that I have ‘gathered’ through this beautiful artwork that says so little yet also speaks volumes.

On Life’s Journeys and Finding Home. This book would prove to be an invaluable companion to Allen Say’s own graphic novel/memoir Drawing from MemoryAs Grandfather’s Journey explored life in Japan and California through Grandfather’s eyes, the ending of the book alluded to Allen’s own journey to the States. It would be great to tease out the points of intersection and convergences in the two books.

What moved me deeply, though about this book, was how Grandfather seemed to miss his home in Japan while in California – yet he misses his life and home in California while in Japan.

He remembered the mountains and rivers of his home. He surrounded himself with songbirds, but he could not forget.

There is a sadness and beauty to those lines which I am sure most immigrants, expatriates, overseas workers feel – a truth that may even be felt by those who have not left their birth countries. The search for something elusive outside of one’s self. The search for home.

Teacher Resources. I was able to find quite a number of resources given that this is a Caldecott medalist and is widely used in the classroom. This website contains an author/illustrator study, classroom connections, web activity and links as compiled by quite a number of teachers. Scholastic has also created a fairly comprehensive lesson plan which includes story extensions and possible activities that can be done inside the classroom. My favorite though is this website by and houghton mifflinthat includes downloadable powerpoint handouts, valuable web resources, and downloadable/printable graphic organizers that are simply amazing. Lastly, here is a downloadable pdf link created by American Immigration Law Foundation, Immigration Curriculum Center Lesson Plan which includes detailed reading notes, post-reading activities as well as recommended activities inside the classroom. Definitely worth checking out.

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1993. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Winner of the Caldecott Medal, ALA Notable Book, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, Horn Book Fanfare Selection, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 59 (35)

Caldecott Challenge Update: 11 of 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012: 19 (12)

Picture Book Challenge Update: 62 of 120

PoC Reading Challenge Update: 20 of 25

Immigrant Stories Challenge 2012: 7 (6)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

11 comments on “Nonfiction Monday: Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

  1. Great review, Myra. Sometimes we focus so much on new books, that we don’t take the time to enjoy the beauty of old favorites. Thanks for participating in Nonfiction Monday.


  2. Terrific to see again Myra. It’s a special book that sits on my shelf, & has been used every year in some context or another. I was glad when Allen Say came out with that additional autobiography which expands the information in another beautiful way. Thank you!


  3. Thanks for this, Myra. I’ve just been given a new ‘big idea’ to booktalk by a local school (grades K-6) that will be the focus for the whole school’s teaching next year — which is perspective. Your review showed me that Grandfather’s Journey and the companion book, Milk with Tea will fit very nicely with this topic.
    Thanks again.
    Apples with Many Seeds


  4. I have always loved this book, Myra, perhaps because I share this sense of being of two worlds (India and America) and belonging to neither. The illustrations here are just so lovely, too….especially that last one you shared, which speaks in symbols, and so powerfully, too!


  5. Hi Myra! Thanks for yet another thoughtful review. I thought this was particularly poignant: “There is a sadness and beauty to those lines which I am sure most immigrants, expatriates, overseas workers feel – a truth that may even be felt by those who have not left their birth countries. The search for something elusive outside of one’s self. The search for home.”


  6. Reminded me of the review of this book by Sheela in Saffron Tree and these words in that review ( )

    “The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other. Home is where the heart is. And for some of us, the heart refuses to be contained within one arbitrary man-made geographical unit of land.”


  7. What a great book for kids about the immigrant journey! Thanks for linking up to the Immigrant Stories Challenge


  8. I read this recently and I couldn’t figure out why it was being marketed as a children’s book instead of an adult graphic novel (sort of). I guess because of the format. But I felt adults would “get” this even more than kids!


  9. Pingback: Nonfiction Monday: El Chino by Allen Say «

  10. Pingback: Multi-colored Threads of Home by Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal

  11. Pingback: [Multicultural Children's Book Day] Issues and Class Discussion |

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