The House Baba Built

Have a look at this BBC video of master illustrator Ed Young talking about making a book about his childhood.

I love every book by Ed Young I have, and they are all so different. He does a lot of traditional tales, among them The Lost Horse, Mouse Match, The Turkey Girl – a Zuni Cinderella, Seven Blind Mice.

This book, The House Baba Built, is autobiographical, and wonderfully so:

The shifting styles of illustration seem to reflect the focus and blur of memory – the moments remembered clearly, almost photographically, and others more of a blur, the knowledge of place, often our best.

Not only the book, but the family and their difficult but wonderful time during the war and Japanese occupation. The father couldn’t buy the land in the safe part of Shanghai, so he asked the landowner if he could build a house there which he would give to the landowner after 20 years. This was agreed, and not only Ed’s but two other families lived there during the war.

"The House Baba Built" (2011) centers around the home that Ed Young's father constructed in Shanghai leading into the World War II era. Young calls it the most complex book he's done.<br /><br /><br />

Japan, looking like a silkworm, and China like the mulberry leaf:

Ed’s grown up cousin Sony listened to Ed’s description of a cowboy, one Ed couldn’t get on paper, and – like magic – drew it just like he had seen it:

There is also this interview with Ed Young about his book –

“Well, I didn’t intend for such an elaborate book when I first started it.  It began with my first trip to China after 20 years of being cut off, when I visited my father’s house with my sister, who was brought up there too, and her daughter.  We got ourselves into the house by telling the owners that my father built it and giving them some evidence of what the house looked like inside.  Being inside the house again evoked a tremendous number of memories, and I put some of these into verse as a sort of reminder of what happened in the house when we were growing up.  So the book started with maybe 14-20 verses of different moments in the house and I was just going to show comic figures/caricatures of us doing different things as a fun book.  However, that didn’t go very well…”

What I like most of all is saving, keeping that time, that place, that childhood that is gone, and doing it with such care and artistry. How good to gather up and pass on some of our memories, to “husband nature’s riches from expense” as Shakespeare calls it. This is an excellent kind of history.

“I’ve noticed that many people have responded to this book by remembering the flavours of their own childhood homes: the smell, a certain kind of noise surrounding it, the colours and patterns, and all kinds of things that conjure up memories of their own childhoods.  I think this is universal because everyone grew up in a place, just that details might be forgotten until somebody else mentions something.   I had lived so long in the United States that I didn’t really think about all these things from the past.  Then, when my sister and I started talking about them, all of these memories started coming back, like measuring ourselves against a wall. All you need is to tickle your brain a bit and it all starts popping out.”

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