nonfiction nuggets…an artist’s childhood in China

The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China, written and illustrated by Ed Young; text as told to Libby Koponen

Ed Young, an outstanding, prolific author/illustrator of children’s literature, was born in 1931 in China, and grew up in Shanghai during the difficult years of World War II.  This remarkable book is his recollection of his childhood, centered around his loving family and a particularly marvelous house, which his father, Baba, designed and built.  The story is fantastic; the artwork and concept of the book are exquisite.

First, the story:  In a clever agreement, made to protect his family, Baba builds a fantastic house, complete with courtyards, gardens, and swimming pool, on the safest ground in Shanghai, without purchasing the land it was on.  Young tells of roller-skating on the roof, and long summer days enjoying the massive swimming pool; bicycle picnics, and cricket battles.

Interspersed with these sunny memories, we glimpse the impact of the war from a child’s point of view — siblings’ chopsticks madly darting in to grab the rare pieces of meat; enforced Japanese lessons in school which the children loyally attempted to fail; refugee families moving in to share that great house of Baba’s; stories to distract one another during Japanese bombing runs.

Young’s memoirs are fascinating, told in picturesque language which young elementary children will readily absorb, subtly revealing emotional depth for those with ears to hear.  On the surface, it is a riveting account of a unique culture and time and experience; underneath, it is the story of a father’s love for his children, and for others who needed shelter during this time of war.

Now:  Young’s artistry is brilliant.  Collages of family portraits and photographs are set against backgrounds of gorgeous, textured-paper-constructions of house and countryside, or laid out in striking arrangements on pages with hues of pumpkin and deepest amethyst, midnight purple and rain-soaked gray.  Pages open up to reveal other pages; text angles and perches in unusual directions.  Truly, it is one of the most beautiful, original books I’ve seen.  Very highly recommended.

Here’s the Amazon link:  The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China