FICTION

Piece by Piece

Peabody Essex Museum. Nov. 2019. 40p. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780875772394.
COPY ISBN
K-Gr 2–When Emmy’s nainai came to the United States one summer, the two loved to visit museums where they would create art-inspired dances and movement. Now that the child’s grandmother has returned to China, Emmy hates visiting museums, even while clinging to Nainai’s homemade blue patchwork blanket. During a visit to Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, Emmy rediscovers her lost love of museums while searching for her beloved, and mysteriously missing, blanket throughout Yin Yu Tang, a Qing dynasty house moved to the museum from Southeastern China. As Emmy follows tantalizing bits of blue, the house’s former residents seem to come to life, with memories like the ones in Nainai’s stories. Emmy gathers comfort from small things; a padded blue jacket, like the one Nainai wears, and the dragons in the carved wooden screens, as if they’ve jumped out of her grandmother’s empowering, adventurous stories. Ultimately, father and daughter reconnect and accept Nainai’s absence while at the same time celebrating their cultural heritage and love for Nainai. The insistent pace enlivens the lush, thoughtful tone of the sensory-rich first person narrative. Precise hand-drawn lettering complements the hand-painted illustrations created with mixed media, utilizing textures and colors evocative of the house itself. Thick black lines and watercolor washes bring to mind the soft-focus of memory. The illustrations are particularly strong when visual details tie Nainai’s youth in China with moments in Emmy’s modern life. Back matter provides historical and cultural context, further supported by photographs and other visuals.
VERDICT Published by the museum, this well-researched and engaging intergenerational picture book will encourage cultural, architectural, and archaeological curiosity.

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