author/illustrator Allen Say


I seem to have a lot to say this week — just call it blogorrhea.

Since I totally copied my sister’s idea yesterday, I thought I’d do it again today, this time emulating Mrs. Cropper’s Books.

My kids’ school has a program called “Author Studies” where once a month, a parent comes into the classroom to introduce an author.  This is the kind of PTA activity I find most worthwhile (plus it doesn’t involve manning a bounce house or scooping snow cones) so I volunteered to do it.  The authors are assigned, and I often know nothing about them, so it’s a learning experience for me, too.

Some of you who knew me in high school will know that I took Japanese as my foreign language (for no apparent reason) and though I haven’t been to Japan (yet), I always enjoy learning about and discussing the Japanese culture.  I was pleased to realize this week that my assigned author for October was Japanese-American Allen Say. 

I loved reading about Say’s life.  He was born in Japan during World War II, when children were moved from place to place to avoid being bombed.  After the war, his parents were divorced and he was allowed to live alone in an apartment at age 12!  He came to America with his father at age 16.  Most of his stories are glimpses into Japanese culture, and they are true stories from his life. 

His illustrations are amazing and beautiful — he won the Caldecott Medal for Grandfather’s Journey.  The stories are simple enough that a verbal three to five year-old could follow them, but they are of great value for older gradeschoolers too, because of their cultural and historical significance.  My presentation yesterday was for Sam’s fourth-grade class and they were very interested in the differences between American and Japanese homes.

In Tree of Cranes, Say’s mother makes a Christmas tree (which he has never heard of) decorated with origami cranes.  After reading the students this story, I gave them each a piece of origami paper and instructions for making a paper crane, encouraging them to take it home and find an adult to help them make one.  “Can’t we do it right now?” they complained.  I assured them that my thirty minutes were up, and that their teacher had work for them to do.  “Actually, we have some time.  We could do it,” she said.  Gulp.  For the next hour, I single-handedly made (I mean “helped” make) twenty-one paper cranes.

While I would only recommend taking on a project like that with nine and ten-year-olds if you have more adult help than I did (maybe an adult for each 4-5 kids would be good), making paper cranes is very fun.  It’s a somewhat advanced origami, so if you’re going to try it with kids, I’d get an origami kit first, and have them practice simpler constructions until they get the hang of it.  Here are the paper crane instructions I used — it looks complicated, but the directions are very clear.

And find a book by Allen Say.  He is wonderful.


3 thoughts on “author/illustrator Allen Say

  1. robinbl

    Wow, I had no idea you took Japanese! Are you getting as much use out of it as I am my Russian? That sounds like a great program your school has. What a fun way to volunteer! We’ll definitely have to check out those books!

  2. sillyjillybean

    I like your volunteer time better than mine. I was pelted with 21 balls during PE while playing Dodge Ball with the kids. They thought this was funny. I wasn’t laughing….plus I was out!


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