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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The House Baba Built, illustrated by Ed Young with text as told to Libby Koponen. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2011. $19.99 all ages

"But the only land for sale there cost far more than my father could pay. So he offered to build a big brick house on it, with courtyards, gardens, a swimming pool, and let the landowner have it all - after we had lived there for twenty years. The owner agreed. "

This incredibly talented artist tells his story to Libby Koponen (who writes the text) and then creates a magical and complex collage homage to family life following the stock market crash that plunged much of the world into turmoil.

He begins at his beginning. The year is 1931, the year of his birth and Ed Young wants his readers to know about his father, his need to keep his family safe and his engineering skills. He builds a huge brick house in the safest part of Shanghai with plans to live there for twenty years. When I say huge, I mean didn't just 'seem' so big to a young boy. It had a swimming pool:

"When we moved in, what excited me most was the swimming pool. Only two other houses in Shanghai had pools. and both belonged to millionaires. Baba got the money to build and maintain ours by forming a swim club with other parents who had been educated abroad. After hours it was our own private pool."

It also had space enough to roller skate on the roof, a number of staircases to slide down, and a multitude of places that encouraged play. There was no end to the fun to be had by the five siblings and their many visitors. As the war raged, the family and many others who sought refuge with them, felt safe and protected inside the walls of 'the house Baba built'. It was three stories of endless playground for Ed, his siblings and their extended family. The family suffered from food shortages and other threats of war as did many others, but they survived and were healthy when the war finally ended:

"I did get braised pork shoulder, plus unimagined fresh fruits from abroad: strawberries, mangoes, bananas so ripe they were almost black, but oh so sweet. Now we realized what we had missed during all those war years."

His story is told in short scenes from childhood, memories where every detail is clear. It is a picture book biography that allows his readers to see what life was like for his family, stressful because of what was happening beyond their walls, but fulfilling and memorable because of what was happening within.

In this inspiring and well-designed book, Ed Young uses foldout pages, vintage photos, maps, and delicate sketched memories to bring his childhood to today's readers. There is so much to see and wonder at; he provides us with a personal and poignant history lesson.
Fitting? Yes!

1 comment:

  1. I love this book too - it might even be my favorite Ed Young (it's so difficult to come to a decision!). And yes, that letter from his dad is so special.