The House Baba Built

The House Baba Built
Age Range
Release Date
October 11, 2011
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In Ed Young's childhood home in Shanghai, all was not as it seemed: a rocking chair became a horse; a roof became a roller rink; an empty swimming pool became a place for riding scooters and bikes. The house his father built transformed as needed into a place to play hide-and-seek, to eat bamboo shoots, and to be safe.

For outside the home's walls, China was at war. Soon the house held not only Ed and his four siblings but also friends, relatives, and even strangers who became family. The war grew closer, and Ed watched as planes flew overhead and frends joined the Chinese air force. But through it all, Ed's childhood remained full of joy and imagination.

Editor review

1 review
A Childhood in China
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
In this picture book, Caldecott-winner Ed Young details his youth at the beginning of WWII in China. Memories based upon his childhood home, built by Baba (daddy), tie the book together. Photographs, family documents, collage and ink drawings create a scrapbook style.

Some details reveal volumes about Young’s life in a fresh, new way, e.g., the trading of silkworm eggs at school. However, there is a rambling, sporadic feel to the book as it shifts from memory to memory that is a bit distracting. The multiple people and families mentioned make for slow reading as readers try to digest new characters. In fact, this reader never really connected with any of the characters or even the narrator himself.

Honestly, the target audience for this work feels unclear. The extended length (48 pages) style seems prohibitive for the typical 4-8 year-old age range. As a former daycare teacher, this reviewer could not imagine reading this book to her classes. The language is a bit simple for older children and adults, although the book could be a good starting point for studies on Chinese culture in the 30s and 40s or for classroom use.

Obviously a work of love on the part of the author, his deep feelings for his family shine through the book.

Includes a timeline, author’s note and floor plan of the house Baba built.
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