The House Baba Built
Told to Libby Koponen; illustrated by Ed Young
2011 (Little, Brown, and Co.)
Source: Orange County Public Library
Ed Young's father is concerned about his family's safety in 1935 Shanghai. He decides that they should move to the outskirts of the city to avoid the effects of the war with Japan. The land is too expensive for Baba to own, so he makes a unique deal with the landowner. He offers to build a spacious brick house with courtyards, gardens, and a swimming pool. After twenty years, Baba will turn over the house to the landowner. The deal is agreed upon and the resourceful Baba, who is an engineer, starts to design. What follows is a description of a family that thrives despite the threat of war and the hardships that have to be endured. Baba does everything with his family in mind and strives to help many others affected by the war. Later, after the children have grown up and the house turned over, Baba sends a letter with the following message which encapsulates his actions throughout the book:
You may put down as rule No. 1 that life is not rich not real unless you partake life with your fellow man. A successful life and a happy life is one as measured by how much you have accomplished for others and not one as measured by how much you've done for yourself.
The House Baba Built is an extraordinary book that combines a poignant autobiographical story with multimedia artwork by one of the best children's book illustrators of all time. Ed Young combines family photographs with illustrations and collage cutouts to tell the story of his childhood and deliver a message given to him by his beloved Baba. In addition to the storytelling and incredible artwork, there is a timeline, a four page blueprint of the house that folds out, and several city maps. This book begs to be a part of a unit on autobiographical picture books. You could include Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey, Peter Sis's The Wall, and James Stevenson's When I Was Nine. I would also consider using this book to compare children today to those of Young's childhood. You could create a Venn diagram to compare the two eras.
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