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by Allen Say & illustrated by Allen Say

Age Range: 10 & up

Pub Date: April 30th, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-21223-X
Publisher: Walter Lorraine/Houghton Mifflin

Say (The Sign Painter, 2000, etc.) takes readers on a very personal and perplexing journey in this latest outing, melding together, in dream and nightmare-like fashion, the past, present, and future. This non-linear, fantasy story-within-a-story begins in present day with a man setting off in his kayak and being carried over an enormous waterfall. Here, minus kayak and equipment, he finds himself in a cave at the foot of a ladder, which leads him to the desert above. At this point, Say establishes a Native American connection—an Indian reservation. But then, finding two lost children who are unable to tell him where their home is, he leads them toward the lights of an internment camp that is both present-day deserted and in full WWII use. At the camp, the man finds an ID tag with his own name on it, and a large group of Japanese-American children chanting, “Take us home.” Searchlights from two watchtowers scan the group and everyone runs. In the next painting, the man appears beside a Pueblo kiva. He climbs down another ladder and falls asleep. The children he sees when he wakes are Native American, not Japanese; those children have gone home. In this cryptic story, which relies on both words and pictures, Say exhibits a political tone not seen in his previous work. He explores difficult pieces of US history (Indian reservations, Japanese internment camps), making a tenuous, but powerful, connection, and focusing on the sadness and bewilderment of the children. Adults and families are absent here. The images are photographic and hauntingly beautiful, but the symbolism is not always clear, especially for a child reader who lacks historical context. While providing much to speculate on, this will probably find its rightful audience with teens and adults. (Picture book. 10+)