Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Favorite Daughter

Written & illustrated by Allen Say
Say, Allen. The Favorite Daughter. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013. ISBN 9780545176620

Plot Summary
After bringing a photo of herself to class of when she was young, Yuriko has decided she does not like her name anymore. The students and even the new art teacher are calling her "Eureka." She is a beautiful half Japanese half American girl who has blond hair. She doesn't want to be different, she wants to be a normal girl with a normal name like Michelle. Fortunately, Yuriko has a kind and understanding father who uses gentle ways of reminding her who she is and how to appreciate her Japanese American culture.

Critical Analysis
This is an autobiographical book about Allen Say's daughter growing up as a bi-cultural child in America. The text does not describe the physical attributes of the characters, so the illustrations and photographs are very important to the visual aspects of the story. Say does incorporate the Japanese culture with character's names and the descriptions of areas at the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park. The main character's name is Yuriko, and when her and her father go to a Japanese sushi restaurant the chef addresses her as "Yuriko-chan." While Yuriko and her father are in the Japanese Garden they watch the sumi-e demonstration. Say has to clarify this word for his daughter and explain that it means "Japanese ink painting." The story exemplifies modern Japanese American culture. Readers may not understand the different ways Yuriko is addressed. At the sushi restaurant she is addressed as Yuriko-chan and the Japanese artist addresses her as Yuriko-san. Say does not explain the differences in these two names, but this can lead to good discovery in a classroom.

Say's illustrations drawn with watercolors, ink, and pencil are beautifully executed. He has also incorporated two real photographs of his daughter. The first photo of his daughter when she was young shows Yuriko's Japanese eyes that are really her only visual Japanese feature. The last page of the story has a photo of Yuriko when she actually visited Japan with her father years later. The majority of the Japanese men in the book, including Say, have dark or gray hair with mustaches. There is only one illustration that shows Yuriko's eyes looking like slits or slanted, but she seems to be looking down. There are only a few places in the story were traditional Japanese attire is worn. One is when Yuriko is wearing her red Kimono, another where a worker at the tea house is dressed up, and the last one is the photo of Yuriko in Japan at the end.

As a whole, this is a heartfelt story of modern family cultures, family values, self identity, and fitting in. I would definitely recommend this book for school and public libraries. It would make a great addition to any library's multicultural books.

Review Excerpts
  • "Say's command of watercolor, ink, and pencil develops the visual narrative through a combination of uncluttered interiors; peaceful, restorative gardens; and emotionally complex portraits." -School Library Journal
  • "Still, the genuine warmth and nontrivializing look at childhood troubles should endear this to a young audience. And the emphasis on celebrating one’s culture while finding common ground with others is universally handy." -Booklist
  • "As the story of a young artist's coming of age, Say's account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest. Say's fans--and those who also feel the pull of the artist's life--will be captivated." -Publishers Weekly
More books by Allen Say for Preschool to 3rd grade children.
  • Grandfather's Journey (9780547076805)
  • Tea with Milk (9780547237473)
  • The Bicycle Man (9780395506523)

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