In Allen Say's Caldecott Medal-winning book, Grandfather's Journey, the narrator recounts the story of his grandfather's life. When he was a young man, the grandfather decided to explore the world. We took a boat from Japan to America, and journeyed across the American continent. He raised a family in San Francisco, but, late in life, he began to long for home. So one day, he took his wife and daughter back to Japan. His daughter married, and had a son. The grandfather told his grandson all about the wonders of California, and one day, the grandson journeyed there himself, and stayed.
Each page of the book is filled with a beautiful, sepia toned painting, in the manner of a family album of the most exquisite kind. Through these pictures, and the spare, distilled prose, we see the grandfather's life, and the places he loved, through the eyes of his grandson.
In spite, or perhaps because of its serious tone, preschoolers and kindergartners love this story. They recognize the connection between people and places, and they feel the pull of family history, their own and that of others.
The book is a wonderful bridge into conversations with young children about places from the past that are meaningful to your family. Where did Mama grow up? And what about Grandpa? These conversations might lead, as they do in the story, to a trip together to see a few family landmarks. You didn't think, did you, that a visit to your old elementary school could be such a hit with your little one? Or that your child could be so interested in seeing the town where his great-grandparents once lived?
But the truth is that young children are profoundly interested in understanding where they came from, and places, however much changed, are often the most tangible evidence of times and events gone by. Whether those places are around the block or across an ocean, your child will learn a great deal about himself from just being there (or even seeing pictures!). So take your preschooler on a trip she'll always remember: to a place from your family's past.
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