Flashes of multi-media brilliance illuminate this darkly colored, leisurely paced memoir of childhood in Shanghai.
With war approaching, Baba (daddy) searches for a place to keep Ma and their five kids safe. “The safest part of Shanghai was where the embassies were—on the edge, next to fields,” but that land is too expensive to purchase. Baba makes a deal: He’ll use his engineering skills to build “a big brick house… with courtyards, gardens, [and] a swimming pool” that his family can inhabit for 20 years, after which it will revert to the landowner. The artist’s childhood in this house comprises the story, a patchwork of games played (including roller skating on the roof), mild deprivation (little meat, but always food) and the distant-seeming war (first-person Eddy refers to Japan as the enemy but doesn’t explain). Eddy feels safe in Baba’s house, as do the other families sheltering there. The episodic text rambles; some illustrations are casual and chaotic. Others are magnificent. Young uses myriad textures, including crinkly paper and woven reed paper. Collaged family silhouettes feature tenderly sketched faces. Old photos and bits of painted collage glow on dark pages. Miniscule cut-out people populate fold-out drawings and complex, three-dimensional–looking collages of the house. Those wanting historical or cultural background will need supplements, though.
Sophisticated, inventive art invites close viewings for patient readers in this unusual family story. (foreword, time line, author’s note) (Picture book/memoir. 7-12)