Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather's Journey. Ill. by Allen Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0395570352.
B. Plot Summary
A Japanese-American man tell the story of his grandfather's journey to America at the start of the 20th century, and how he returns to Japan only to dream of someday returning to the second land he loves: America.
C. Critical Analysis
Much of Grandfather's Journey takes place in early 1900s America, illustrating that time period's style of living. The Japanese characters are given authentic representation in the illustrations through the hair styles, facial features, and skin tones. What could possibly be construed as a stereotype is shown by none of the Japanese characters ever smiling, except one picture of the grandfather smiling as he plays with his grandson. When the Grandfather returns to Japan, Japanese culture is illustrated through clothes, building architecture, and the environment, but names are never mentioned, nor is an direct Japanese language.
The overall impression is one of a quiet narrative in the oral tradition. One feels as if one is sitting by the fire while another individual is quietly retelling a story heard long ago from the beloved grandfather.
Grandfather's Journey would be appropriate to read to a class on a dark, rainy day, allowing time for reflection by either writing in a journal or drawing a picture.
D. Review Excerpts
Amazon.com Home becomes elusive in this story about immigration and acculturation, pieced together through old pictures and salvaged family tales. Both the narrator and his grandfather long to return to Japan, but when they do, they feel anonymous and confused: "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other." Allen Say's prose is succinct and controlled, to the effect of surprise when monumental events are scaled down to a few words: "The young woman fell in love, married, and sometime later I was born." The book also has large, formal paintings in delicate, faded colors that portray a cherished and well-preserved family album.
Encourage students to ask older relatives for stories of how their family came to America, and if able, bring a photo of the relative to show when sharing the story.