My new favorite sub-genre could be called the Illustrated-childhood-memoir-by-a-distinguished-children’s-illustrator-immigrant. I’ve already eaten up books by Peter Sis, Uri Shulevitz and Allen Say. The latest gem is The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young. This 2011 memoir is a big, beautiful multi-media recreation of the world Young grew up in Shanghai. He was born in 1931 during years of crisis: the Great Depression, invasion, World War II.
What a beautiful book. The cover is like the wrought iron gate of the beautiful house Young’s father built for his family. His father builds this house on a wealthy landowner’s property on the condition that his family will get to live there for twenty years. Young takes us back to the sights and sounds of his childhood and his wonderful home vividly, with paintings, drawings, and photographs, introducing us to his siblings and the world he knew. It’s a spectacular work filled with foldout pages. As the war goes on, his family takes other people in, including a German refugee family with a little girl, Jean, who’s sort of like a new sister.
What a gift Ed Young has given to the world with The House Baba Built. It will be enjoyed by young and old. Middle grade kids interested in history or art should be an enthusiastic audience. Young, who turned 80 in 2012, has insured that a wondrous childhood in old Shanghai will live on.