During the last few weeks of school while helping out at my daughter’s elementary school library, I checked out some Allen Say books to read to my youngest child as well as my elderly mother. Mr. Say is the author/illustrator of lovely children’s stories such as “Grandfather’s Journey,” and he illustrated the fun “How My Parents Learned to Eat” by Ina Friedman. Quite a few of his books are autobiographical, telling the stories of his boyhood experiences or of his Asian-heritage parents. My Japanese-born mother is very charmed by his “Kamishibai Man” which draws out her own childhood memories, and with “Tea With Milk,” the story of how his parents met. She has fallen in love with his illustrations of Japanese life.
Mr. Say has received the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations. In his acceptance speech, he mentions that when he first began writing children’s stories he wanted to “build a bridge” between the Japanese and American cultures. Although he soon abandoned that ambition calling it a “pompous, self-serving delusion,” I feel that some of his books build a bridge quite well. One of the reasons I want to make educators aware of my mother’s autobiography, “Cherry Blossoms in Twilight” is because of its ability to build understanding between peoples. The more we learn about another culture and its people, the more we are able to realize that underneath the apparent differences, we all experience the same feelings of love, joy, fear, anxiety. We are all human beings bonded by our human sensitivities and experiences.
If you have an immigration story in your family, or a story of love between two people of different heritages, there are wonderful lessons there. Ask about those stories, learn about the cultures, hear about the difficulties of accepting differences. Above all, remember how you have loved the people in your life who are different – in spite of, or even because of, those differences.