This article is part of Mochi’s Winter 2021 issue, celebrating Cultural Capital. In this issue, we highlight ways that we, as Asian Americans, have embraced our identities and culture, and ways that our culture has been appropriated by others. Check out the rest of our issue here! And if you like what you are reading, please support us by buying us a boba through Ko-fi.
Grandmothers are an archetype in children’s stories. Tomie dePaola’s classic “Strega Nona,” ladling pasta over a big pot, is an iconic character. Tae Keller’s recent Newbery winner, “When You Trap a Tiger,” sees Lily and her family moving in with her halmoni. But what if the grandmothers in our lives are less magical and much farther away, only seen through webcams and heard through phone calls? “Amah Faraway” tells that story.
In this homage to both Taiwan and grandmothers faraway, author Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrator Tracy Subisak team up to create something special. In the story, Taiwanese American Kylie finally gets to visit her grandma after talking to her through the computer. The longing for being in different countries became even more pronounced with quarantine and travel restrictions, something that many immigrant families will relate to.
The care that Greanias and Subisak put into the book came through in other details that are relatable. For example, Kylie was surprised to find no chocolate baos being served in a restaurant in Taiwan, having eaten them in the states. Being diaspora often means being more familiar with the American version of your tradition than the original. The examples are endless: poke, Chinese takeout, rooster sriracha, and more. Subtle details like chocolate baos capture what it’s like to be a foreigner and at home at the same time.
Kylie gradually feels more at home when amah shows her what is special about Taiwan. When amah treats her to breakfast, Kylie is initially disappointed at the lack of chocolate baos until she turns to embrace youtiao, a delicious Chinese donut. With amah’s repeated invitations, “lai, lai,” Kylie tries shopping at the night market, going to the hot springs, and playing at amah’s favorite parks in Taipei. Kylie comes to enjoy these experiences because they are fun, and what is a daily routine for amah becomes memories of bonding with her granddaughter.
There aren’t many children’s books in English set in Taiwan, let alone one dedicated to the experience of visiting your grandma’s home, so it was special to see Greanias and Subisak incorporate both Chinese and English in their book. The phrases Kylie hears, made concrete by pinyin and characters on the page, bring to mind the neon signages instantly recognizable for one who has arrived in a city in Asia. The speech bubbles bring to mind hearing Hokkien spoken on the streets and by family members. The illustrations and text came together to capture special moments for Kylie and amah.
The growing number of books about diasporic kids going on a trip to Taiwan is a gift and something that did not exist for a long time. The trip is a memorable experience, depending on the age you embark on the journey. For example, Abigail Hing Wen’s “Loveboat, Taipei” describes a teen going on a cultural immersion trip to Taiwan. But what “Loveboat” is really known for is a summer when young Taiwanese Americans fall in love and go clubbing, away from their parents’ rules.
For younger kids and tweens, the experience may involve some unease at first, but it usually ends up being rewarding. “Dumpling Days” by Grace Lin used to be one of the only books about going to Taiwan for the first time. In it, Pacy’s family goes to Taiwan for a month for her grandmother’s 60th birthday. The language barrier makes her feel out of place, but Pacy finds her place in a Chinese painting class. Likewise, in Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu’s graphic novel “Measuring Up,” Cici’s interest in cooking becomes a vehicle to embracing her identity, then a way to see her grandmother.
In each of these books, Taiwanese diaspora children become more comfortable in their skin when they finally get to feel like one of many, rather than one of a few, in the place of their roots. To get to read about that experience in picture books in English (a second language for immigrants and 1.5 generation kids) and with grandmothers at the center of the story is a gift.
Image credits: Bloomsbury Publishing
Last modified: February 20, 2022