East Asian intergenerational picture books

Like Boston Globe–Horn Book honor book Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin, these recent picture books center warm-hearted, culturally specific, intergenerational East Asian, Asian American, and Asian Canadian family relationships. For older readers, see also AAPI stories and voices from April’s issue of Notes; and more links from May’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration. Throughout the month of October, please join us in celebrating the virtual Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards.

I Dream of Popo
by Livia Blackburne; illus. by Julia Kuo
Primary    Roaring Brook    40 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-250-24931-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-81995-6    $10.99

The protagonist of this emotion-filled story is a little girl in Taiwan who loves her popo, or grandmother. She dreams with Popo, walks with her in the park, and bows to her on New Year’s Day — until one day the girl and her parents move to San Diego. She can then only dream of Popo, talk with her from across the sea, and pray for her recovery from an illness. Upon returning to Taiwan for a visit, the girl is dismayed that her language skills have slipped (“Now ‘ni hao’ is what feels strange in my mouth”), yet the bond between granddaughter and grandmother remains as strong as ever. Kuo’s digital illustrations, of a rosy-cheeked girl and active grandma, complement Blackburne’s text by showing details that accurately and authentically depict Taiwan and its culture. Iconic buildings (Taipei 101, the Grand Hotel), Chinese New Year traditions, street signs, and cityscapes are only some of the abundant details that invite readers to look closely at the images. In a few spreads, the gutter is cleverly used to delineate the characters’ two very different worlds. Blackburne’s nuanced narrative and Kuo’s eye-catchingly hued illustrations bring readers on a heartwarming journey, providing an opportunity to explore and discuss the themes of identity, roots, connection, and emigration. Appended author and illustrator’s notes and a glossary provide more detail. WEILEEN WANG

Dumplings for Lili
by Melissa Iwai; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Norton    48 pp.    g
6/21    978-1-324-00342-7    $17.95
e-book ed.  978-1-324-00343-4    $17.48

Lili’s Nai Nai is out of cabbage for the baos she is making and sends her granddaughter off to see if Babcia, up on the sixth floor of her apartment building, has any. Yes, Babcia does, but she is out of potatoes for her pierogi and sends Lili to ask Granma down on the second floor. Granma has potatoes but needs garlic for her Jamaican beef patties. So off Lili goes to Abuela on the fourth floor for garlic. The pattern continues with Nonna (making ravioli) and Teta (making Lebanese fatayer). Lili finally returns to Nai Nai, tells her of her adventures, and helps finish the baos by lining the steamer basket with the (finally) procured cabbage leaves. When all the grandmothers arrive for an outdoor party, they are each carrying their various dumpling treasures. But where have Lili’s mama and papa been all this time? Surprise! They come home with her new baby brother, “another little dumpling treasure!” Iwai employs a bright palette and effectively plays with perspective (as in Lili’s dizzying glance down the building’s stairwell). Especially entertaining are the scenes of Lili making baos with Nai Nai and the chart of Lili’s journey, like a game board showing all the moves she has made. In their generosity and joy of cooking, Nai Nai and her friends are kindred spirits to the title character in Oge Mora’s Thank You, Omu! (rev. 11/18). A detailed recipe for making baos is appended. DEAN SCHNEIDER

Kiyoshi’s Walk
by Mark Karlins; illus. by Nicole Wong
Primary    Lee & Low    32 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-62014-958-4    $18.95

Kiyoshi appreciates the haiku written by his grandfather, the “wise poet” Eto, and asks him, “Where do poems come from?” In response, his grandfather pockets a pen and paper and takes him on a walk through their busy urban neighborhood. Passing by a fruit stand, Kiyoshi pats a cat standing on a pyramid of oranges. After the page-turn, the fruit is scattered on the ground, and Eto writes a poem: “Hill of orange suns. / Cat leaps. Oranges tumble. / The cat licks his paw.” They continue their walk, and Kiyoshi’s senses are heightened as he notices a flower in a sidewalk crack and the passing “whoosh” of a girl on a bike. Pigeons fly overhead, leading to Eto’s next haiku; a forgotten teddy bear behind a construction wall leads to the third. Like Karlins’s text, Wong’s digital illustrations are delicate and precise. She uses soft pastels along with grays and browns, employing a variety of perspectives to capture the beauty of a North American cityscape. By the end of the walk Kiyoshi is inspired to create his own poem, having learned that poetry comes from the world around him and from the feelings in his heart, “the way they come together.” An author’s note explains the Japanese origins of haiku and how it differs from the American form. This warm, loving picture book might just inspire a poetry walk. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

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.” JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

Grandpa Across the Ocean
by Hyewon Yum; illus. by the author
Preschool    Abrams    40 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-4197-4225-5    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64700-312-8    $15.29

A young Korean American boy travels across the ocean to visit his grandfather in South Korea. Everything is strange there. “It smells strange. It sounds strange.” Grandpa speaks an unfamiliar language and eats food that the child doesn’t want to eat. The boy is not happy. “Grandpa’s house is the most boring place on earth!” But some time spent together proves him wrong. Grandpa laughs when watching cartoons and loves chocolate ice cream. He’s a great singer, and also a troublemaker — just like his grandson! Now, everything is familiar. The child can understand Grandpa’s language and eat Grandpa’s food. And he can’t wait to be back next summer. In this sweet and funny story, Yum (Saturday Is Swimming Day, rev. 7/18; I Am a Bird, rev. 1/21) explores the grandparent-grandchild relationship and shows how barriers of language, culture, distance, and age are overcome through the creation of shared memories and finding commonality. The straightforward text is easily accessible, and the colored-pencil illustrations are bright and vibrant. Faithful representations of street scenes and food culture in South Korea invite readers from the same background to connect personally with the visual narrative while allowing others to experience something new. The front and back endpapers also include a wealth of detail and provide a visual summary of the story. WEILEEN WANG

From the October 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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