Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather's Journey. Illustrated by Allen Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0395570352.
Grandfather left Japan for North America by crossing the Pacific Ocean on a steamship. He journeyed throughout the United States and fell in love with California. He returned to Japan to marry, but brought his wife to California, where they lived and raised a daughter. Grandfather missed Japan and took his family to live there. His daughter married and had a son, the narrator, who loved visiting Grandfather and hearing about California. Grandfather missed California, but was never able to return. Once the narrator was older he went to California. He remained there and began a family of his own, but continues to visit Japan.
Grandfather's Journey is a beautiful story that is filled with heart warming sentiments. The reader is able to understand how much the characters loved both California and Japan. It is also possible to understand how much the narrator cared for his grandfather. This is a story that can be enjoyed by both younger and older children. The text itself does not include cultural markers, but a lot of detail is provided in the illustrations. The characters and scenery are all presented in a very realistic manner. Each illustration is a wonderful work of art that adds depth to the story. This book received the Caldecott Medal in 1994.
All of the characters are presented with a neutral skin tone and dark brown hair. As Grandfather ages his hair thins and turns gray and is eventually completely white. All the characters have Japanese features, but they are subtle and natural. The clothing worn depends on which country and which time period the story is taking place in. This first picture shows Grandfather in Japanese clothing, but he switches to a suit and jacket when he journeys to America. The first time Grandfather's wife is shown she is riding in a boat, carrying a white umbrella, and wearing a white dress with a high collar, long sleeves, and a pink flowered belt. The grandparents clothing seems to stay the same, but in one picture grandfather is shown with a red sweater.
When the grandparents return to Japan they begin wearing kimonos again. Although the daughter continues to wear her dresses from America, she wears a kimono on her wedding day while her husband wears a suit. The grandson wears American styled clothes in all of his pictures. When he journeys to America he wears a suit just as his grandfather did, but it is in the style of a more modern time period.
A part of Grandfather's American home is only shown once. He is standing in a room that is filled with many bird cages. The text says that they contain songbirds that remind Grandfather of Japan. There is a clock with roman numerals on the wall and Grandfather is staring out the window. The house in Japan is shown twice. In the first picture Grandmother is wearing a kimono and sitting on a mat on the floor and is facing the open doorway. Outside of the room is a wooden walkway. In front of that is a pair of shoes that are on a large, flat rock. Grandfather is inside of his house the next time it is shown. He is sitting cross-legged on a mat on the wooden floor. He is staring at a small birdcage that holds two birds that remind Grandfather of California. A small teapot is on the floor next to him. Wooden shades are hanging down behind Grandfather, but there are open spaces that show the grass and stepping stones that are outside.
Some items are included in the illustrations in order to represent the places visited or the time period. In one picture Grandfather is on the deck of a ship. In another he is standing in front of a train. On the page which reads, "The endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he had crossed," Grandfather is shown in the middle of an endless field with the grains coming up to his waist. The page with factories shows many buildings with tall smoke stacks and a gray sky filled with smoke. On one page he is standing with others in front of a barber shop. There are people of other ethnicities present and Grandfather is shown as the shortest person. The next picture shows a river boat. All of these illustrations help set the story in America's industrial era.
When the war is discussed, the two pictures of Japan appear dark and gloomy. The first shows a boy standing on a sidewalk dressed in a soldiers uniform and holding a rifle. The next picture shows a group of children standing on a large pile of rubble where their homes once stood. Most of the children wear shirts with pants or shorts that look dirty and worn out.
"As in the best children's books, the plain, understated words have the intensity of poetry. The watercolor paintings frame so much story and emotion that they break your heart. -Booklist
"As in Tree of Cranes, which is about the narrator's California-born mother, the paintings are precise, cool portraits and views that fix recollections into images, and the book as a whole is an album where both a picture of a family standing amidst war's devastation and a romantic pastorale of courting lovers find their place in memory." -Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Share Tea with Milk by Allen Say which is a continuation of Grandfather's Journey and presents the detailed story of the daughter's life in Japan.
Have children share stories about their own family or about places they have traveled to.