All great children’s books contain a touch of melancholy. There’s a simple reason for this: greatness stems from honesty, and any adult looking back on his youth will always, if he is honest, experience a tinge of melancholy. If said adult happens to write a children’s book, this sadness will no doubt be expressed when he tells his story.
That said, Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Allen Say inhabits sadness more fully––and with more splendor––than any other children’s author that comes to mind. Say’s tales, which he realizes in detailed watercolors, are often filled with longing and loneliness. His characters are introspective and courageous: role models of a different sort than we are used to in our kid’s books.
Grandfather’s Journey tells the tale of Say’s elder male relative as he emigrates to America and struggles with an ever-present homesickness. Tea with Milk explores the story of a young girl who finds herself caught between two cultures. Both deal with the deepest emotions available to a human being, and it is to Say’s enormous credit that he entrusts his young readers with these particular feelings.