Ed Young, winner of the 1990 Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po and recipient of two Caldecot Honors(including one for Seven Blind Mice, which I love!), grew up in China, during World War II. His father, Baba, built a home for his family--five children, his mother, himself--the part of Shanghai safest from the Japanese bombs. I think the interesting part about this book is just how normal it all seems, despite there being a World War taking place in this family's backyard: the children are always hungry, thanks to food shortages and increased prices, and there's almost never eat. But Ed goes to movies, Westerns even, and the children ride their bicycles and have picnics and play pretend. There's a lot of extended family--cousins, aunts, uncles, even a German family that rents space in this large home, and these children always seem busy, always seem safe. Even when they hear the warning sirens and the blasts from the bombs, they're tucked away, listening to their father tell stories.
This book is the very definition of mixed-media. There are pencil drawings, photographs of the family, photo collages, cut paper, what looks like marker, paint, crayons, probably more. It gives the book amazing texture, incredible feeling. It should be confused, muddled, ugly, and instead each medium is perfectly appropriate, purposefully rendered.
I think my very favorite thing about this book is how very clearly Baba loved his family. He built this house on this land, knowing that in twenty years, the lease would be up and he would have to leave, without any sales proceeds to buy a new home, to keep his family safe. He built it with "double-tiered brick walls and eighteen-inch thick concrete slabs on the roof" to keep his family safe. And he wrote a letter to his grown children saying that a successful life is one that you measure in how much you've done for others. I think Baba must've had a very successful life.