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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Favorite Daughter, written and illustrated by Allen Say. Arthur A Levine Books, Scholastic. 2013. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"When Yuriko came home, she went straight to her room. "What happened?" Father asked. "They all laughed at me." "You mean at the picture? They were just teasing you." "No. They said Japanese dolls have black hair. 'Yoo-REE-ko in ki-MO-na!' They sang it all day long."

It is impossible to gauge the effect that teasing has on anyone. It is important to understand that it happens often, and to many. Even that doesn't change the hurt that is experienced when seemingly harmless fun is made of a child. In his newest book, Allen Say addresses one such incident from his own, and his favorite daughter's, experience.

Yuriko is staying with her father when she asks for a picture to take with her to school. Together, they find the one that will be 'perfect' for a class album. It shows a toddler in a beautiful red kimono, a precious gift from her father's homeland. When Yuriko comes back from school, she is quiet and sad. The children at school teased her about her hair color, stating that Japanese children should have black hair. Her new art teacher used the wrong name when addressing her. It is enough to make Yuriko want to change her name, and to downplay her love of art.

Her father shows caring support for her feelings and her need for a change. He suggests that they go out for dinner to talk about it. They go to an old favorite restaurant where the owner knows her only as Yuriko. Father and daughter chat seriously about Yuriko's feelings. When her father suggests a trip to Japan, Yuriko explains that she has an art assignment. He promises the trip will be quick. The following day he makes good his promise.

Throughout this lovely story, the father suggests outings that remind his daughter of the beauty of her culture, and all those things she loves so much about her Japanese heritage. Even a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, the subject for her new art assignment, offers fodder for using her imagination and artistic ability:

"We already drew the bridge in kindergarten, Daddy. And all the kids are doing the same thing now!"
"So you want an ordinary name, but you want to do something different from everyone else in art. I like the second part a lot."

The subtle watercolors that help to tell this family story are as gentle as the dialogue that passes between the two. Mr. Say captures their lovely relationship, while reminding his daughter of the culture they share.  Two family photos of Yuriko, one as a toddler and one as a young and beautiful woman (both clad in kimonos), add special meaning. I love the open, reassuring relationship he establishes between the two, letting his the young girl openly express her feelings while always reminding her of the wonderful things about the life she is living.

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