Review of The Big Bath House

The Big Bath House
by Kyo Maclear; illus. by Gracey Zhang
Primary    Random    40 pp.    g
11/21    978-0-593-18195-9    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-18196-6    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-18197-3    $10.99

A young girl visiting her grandmother in Japan narrates this not-so-traditional bath-time book about a very traditional and ancient Japanese custom. The narrator and her beloved baachan, along with a gaggle of aunties, take a walk to the neighborhood bath house, where they meet up with some smiling young cousins. After removing shoes and clothes, they sit on low stools by water faucets, scrub themselves clean with soap, and rinse off before gently easing themselves into the steaming hot bath with a communal “Ahhhhh.” The narrator guides readers through the potentially unfamiliar rituals by clearly describing what will happen; the future tense (“The wooden sandals will be lined up and waiting”) also reads like a comforting reminder of what will take place the next time she gets to visit her grandmother. The text mirrors the mood — quick rhymes describe the excitement of arriving and the fun of soaping up, then longer sentences slow down and quiet as the group walks home in the dark. Zhang’s buoyant illustrations in ink, gouache, and watercolors match the water-focused story with transparent, watery hues anchored by strong black outlining. Young audiences will giggle at all the naked bodies in the book, while adults will appreciate the body-positive descriptions: “You’ll all dip your bodies, / your newly sprouting, / gangly bodies, / your saggy, shapely, / jiggly bodies, / your cozy, creased, / ancient bodies. / Beautiful bodies.” In an appended note, Canadian author Maclear (It Began with a Page, rev. 11/19) describes the childhood summers she spent in Japan, she and her grandmother sharing not a common language but “rituals, a sweet tooth, and a love of bathing.”

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from Simmons University.

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