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Of Multi-Generational Homes and Gentrification in Picturebooks by Asian Creators

Hyewon Yum's "This Is Our House" and Katie Yamasaki's "Everything Naomi Loved."

Myra here.

This July to September, we are doing a book-series marathon.

typorama 13

We are featuring books that fit the following deliberately-nebulous criteria:

  1. Books that are part of an ongoing series
  2. Themed stories: books that are technically not part of a series, but fit a specific theme – e.g. intergenerational stories, nature-themed stories
  3. Short story collections
  4. Narratives of a similar genre 
  5. Stories written by same author

I thought of juxtaposing these two stories together because (1) they are both written and illustrated by female Asian-American artists, and (2) they feature a contrasting portrayal of homes with one depicted as a forever home, while the other shows the loss of much-loved home thanks to gentrification.

This Is Our House [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2013)
ISBN: 9780374374877 (ISBN10: 0374374872) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I have featured quite a number of Hyewon Yum’s picturebooks here, and I am glad to be sharing another one of hers with This Is Our House that portrays a multi-generational immigrant family.

The story begins with the child-protagonist’s grandparents who “arrived from far away with just two suitcases in hand” and how they raised three children in this home with the number 455. The eldest daughter, the child protagonist’s mother left for college and came back with a husband. The illustrations suggest that the child’s parents are a mixed-race couple who eventually moved into this forever home.

The narrative is comforting and light, with the art depicting the passage of time, along with the framed photographs on the wall. However, I would have appreciated an Author’s Note that would provide some context to this story. While Asian families are pretty accustomed to having grown married children live with them, this is not typical in Western contexts. Providing more background information would have enriched the narrative considerably.

Everything Naomi Loved [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Katie Yamasaki and Ian Lendler Illustrated by Katie Yamasaki
Published by Norton Young Readers (2020)
ISBN: 9781324004912 (ISBN10: 1324004916) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

When Naomi wanted to see the world she looked out her window…

I often hear this sentiment shared by Filipino-American friends and family: the notion that the United States of America contains multitudes and such diverse people that it is like seeing the world in one’s street. While probably true, I feel that it also contributes to the seeming-insularity of the country and its refusal to see or even get to know other parts of the world, because the world ostensibly comes to them.

Putting that observation aside, the art of Yamasaki is alive, teeming with people and colors and such vibrant movement. It is not surprising that Katie has such diverse friends of all ethnicities and varied ages.

The change in the community, however, became gradually apparent with a tree being torn down. People started leaving their homes as buildings inevitably got torn down, making way for “something new, something fancy.”

The narrative arc felt credible with perfect pacing that while tragic also contributed to a rhythm of inevitability; the sense of doom pervades, yet it is resisted with colours, art, movement. I was especially moved by the last few lines about places we call home and people we discover and love with those periods of transition. As a woman of color who has moved quite a number of times across the world, it touched a space in me: the one that continues to grow despite the sense of displacement.

This book can be paired perfectly with Phoebe Wahl’s The Blue House (Amazon | Book Depository). Click on the image to be taken to my review.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 95/96 out of target 100

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).

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