The House Baba Built

An Artist's Childhood in China (2011)
The House Baba Built

Illustrator Ed Young, winner of the Caldecott Medal for his book Lon Po Po, tells the unique story of his childhood in wartime China through award-winning author Libby Koponen. Young’s father, Baba, an engineer, devises a way of protecting his wife and five children and numerous other relatives and friends by constructing a bomb-proof house that becomes a playground for the children complete with a swimming pool. Lacking the funds for building, Baba makes an agreement with the landowner that he would build the extravagant home, live in it for twenty years, and then give it to the owner. Baba designs and constructs the home in the safest location in Shanghai in the vicinity of the embassies. Young’s imaginative play makes a riding horse out of the family rocking chair. The family shares many games, both physical and mental. The children hatch silkworms and force crickets to battle. When no money is available to refill the pool, the children ride their bikes and scooters in it. Baba tells stories in the protected room where they are allowed lights during air raids: it is really a bomb shelter. This is a fascinating recollection of a close family growing up in poor, dangerous times, yet safe from the destruction of war, and of the raising of an award-winning contemporary artist. Young’s graphics, drawings, photographs, and an architect’s renderings of the home’s floor plan recount the artist’s childhood in a captivating manner.

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