• Happy birthday Leonard P. Kessler (Mr. Pine’s Mixed-up Signs).
  • You’re not going anywhere! A British proclamation on this day in 1775 forbids residents from leaving Boston. Read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.
  • In 1793 Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin, an invention separating cotton fibers from seeds at a much faster rate than can be done by hand. Read Up Before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America by Deborah Hopkinson.
  • With Halloween just a few days away, get a head start on National Chocolate Day. Read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith, illustrated by Gioia Fiammenghi.

On October 28,1886, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s sculpture, Liberty Enlightening the World, was officially dedicated on Bedloe’s Island in New York. A sonnet by Emma Lazarus had been inscribed on the pedestal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Certainly many great children’s books have been written about the statue itself, including Lynn Curlee’s Liberty. But the Statue of Liberty signifies more than just the journey of those who came through Ellis Island to America. We are, after all, largely a nation of immigrants, descendants of those who arrived from a variety of places, at different times, to begin their life here.

Grandfather’s Journey, written and illustrated by Japanese-American author Allen Say, is one of the most powerful books about the immigrant experience published in the past twenty years. In a spare text, this winner of the Caldecott Medal tells the story of Say’s grandfather, who left Japan as a young man to travel around the world. In luminous watercolors, filled with sunlight and deep shadows, Say pictures the America that his grandfather saw—deserts with magnificent rock sculptures and fields of endless wheat. Returning to Japan, his grandfather married and then came to California to live and raise a daughter. But he went back to Japan before World War II and was never able to return to California, although he told his grandson stories about it. Bringing the book full circle, the text reads, “After a time, I came to love the land my grandfather had loved, and I stayed on and on until I had a daughter of my own . . . I think I know my grandfather now: I miss him very much.”

No matter how many times I read this ending, I always cry. In a mere thirty-two pages Allen Say has brought his grandfather to life. Even more important, the book speaks to the experience of those who have known two homes in their lifetime—“the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”

The dedication of the Statue of Liberty celebrates the American experience: People from many nations, with many different stories, come to this land, still missing the place they came from. Allen Say’s loving tribute to his grandfather resonates for readers because he conveys a universal story, even though the one he tells is so very personal. Emma Lazarus’s poem ends with the words, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” In Grandfather’s Journey readers witness just how special, how golden, this land could be for its immigrants.

Fans of Allen Say and Grandfather’s Journey will definitely want to pick up his new, longer autobiography, Drawing from Memory. Partially created in graphic novel format, the book is ideal to use in any author study of Say and fills in many unpublished details about his journey as an artist.

Here’s a page from Grandfather’s Journey:


Originally posted October 28, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Asian American, Award Winning, Caldecott, Family, History, Immigration, Multicultural
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Grandfather’s Journey


  1. G. Perry says:

    This is such splendid work. The art alone is worthy of a book. I put a big penciled star above the title in 100 Best Books for Children when I read it. That meant that when I look back at it in this book in the future, there was something very special about the book when I read it the first time.

    I too was separated from a grandfather I loved, but in a profoundly different way.

    The things we carry most with us from our grandparents are often powerful stories. The lucky ones will be carrying stories made of fine jewels. Others may be carrying something very different.

    Be careful grandparents. Your grandchild is your biographer in the future.

  2. Anita says:

    Gordon: Thanks for this post. This book does celebrate that wonderful grandparent/grandchild bond.

  3. Immigration & Emigration.

    They sound so similar, two parts of the same process. So similar that we almost put a sign of equality.

    Yet, the emotions are so different. Leaving and Arriving.

    So damn hard. Both. So fabulous. Both.

    I love the quote: ““the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”

    After reading your review of The Arrival, I had to buy the book Anita. After it arrived, I was shocked by the book. Some days I can’t even hold it in my hands, that’s how good it is.

    Grandfather’s Journey is coming home, as well.


    Read Aloud Dad

  4. Anita says:

    Read Aloud Dad: Thanks for the comments on Grandfather’s Journey and The Arrival. Both really work to explain leaving — and arriving. Anita

  5. Happy Anniversary Anita! I wish you many more years.

  6. Jory Hearst says:

    I’ve just missed the boat to comment on Grandfather’s Journey (already 10/29!), but man, do I love this book.

    And happy happy one year, Anita!!! Hoorah! My favorite blog, hands-down. This fall has been so crazy, my biggest regret is not reading you everyday (but I’m hopefully finding my way back).

  7. Anita says:

    Jory: So good to hear from you. Remember — this isn’t an assignment! I’m just happy whenever you can find the time to read and comment.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.