Young, Ed. The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011.
Ed Young, illustrator, author, and artist, wrote his autobiographical tale The House Baba Built as an account of his childhood in China during World War II. He recounts the ways in which he and his family grew closer in the house that his father designed to keep them safe from the war. The imagination and architecture within this nonfiction book entwine to pull the reader into a whimsical depiction of Young’s youth.
Young’s story is deeply personal, but its sincerity reaches the reader, despite his/her being removed from the story’s specific setting. The heartfelt nature of The House Baba Built adds to the sense of its accuracy. Young includes a foreword, setting the historical climate, and an afterword, reflecting on the structure of Baba’s house. Additionally, he includes a timeline of important events in his family, family photos, and an author’s note, which relates his desire to accurately portray his childhood experiences.
As the book moves chronologically through the time his family spent in the house that his father designed, the art and text captivate the reader with their lively and interconnected images. The figurative language, which permeates the text, is poignant and complements the striking array of visuals, which are comprised of a variety of mediums, including collage, pastels, charcoal, and photography. For example, the opening lines state that the “war was spreading to Shanghai, my father said, like the crows that came in summer and covered the sky with blackness” (1). The pages below the text present an ominous background blackened by crows with the outline of his family in red, like jubilant, red neon shining against a black sky, illustrating the contrast between his familial and governmental environments. Additionally, Young’s passion is evoked in the fold out pages and vivid, lively depictions of his imagination. One of the most fantastical visuals is the collage of ocean, pirate ship, and mermaids. The content is that of a childhood fantasy and immediately pleases the eye as well as heart.
Northrup, Mary. "The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood In China." Library Media Connection 30.5 (2012): 57.Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
"The multimedia illustrations include clever collages of cutout shapes, torn paper, and photographs. An excellent example of a picture book for older readers, this book provides a good introduction to China during the World War II era."
"CHILDREN's BOOKS: Nonfiction." Publishers Weekly 258.45 (2011): 44. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
"Caldecott Medalist Young shares a remarkable chapter of his family's history in this picture book memoir about his upbringing during WWII in a sprawling house in Shanghai built by his father."
Starred book review in Booklist.
This could be used in a multicultural studies unit with books about other cultures during WWII.
This could be read with other books about WWII, such as Night.
Ed Young's other books, such as Lon Po Po, could be read in conjunction with this one.