Piece by Piece

Written by: Susan Tan

Illustrated by: Justine Wong

For ages: 5-12 years

Language: English, a few Chinese words. 

Topics Covered: Family, Asian-American Experience, Chinese-American Identity, History, Historical Architecture, Museums, Social-Emotional Learning, Own Voices. 

Summary: 

This book is about Emmy, and the strong relationship she has with her grandmother Nainai who lives in China.  Nainai comes to visit during the summer, and the special activity the two of them share is going to new museums every week.  Before leaving, Nainai makes a blanket for Emmy out of fabrics that have memories for the both of them attached.  Emmy loves the blanket very much, and takes it everywhere.  Emmy’s dad takes them to a new museum and says there is something very special to show her there, but Emmy is skeptical because Nainai isn’t there with her.

Suddenly Emmy realizes her beloved blanket is missing, and is distraught.  Assured by the museum staff that they’ll be on the lookout, Emmy realizes that they’re near an entire house like the one Nainai grew up in, inside the museum!  The pair is at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.  There’s really a house brought from China inside!  Emmy walks around the house, steeped in memories of Nainai.

This is a beautiful book about both big emotions and Chinese family history.  Emmy has a lot of sadness and grief that Nainai is back in China, and grapples with these big emotions during her exploration of the house.  We are lucky enough to live in the Boston area and have been to the PEM, getting into our own exploration of the house!  In the back of the book is more historical information about the house, and how it got from China to the museum.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Tan-Author-Photo-683x1024Susan Tan “wanted to be a children’s author since eighth grade when I was named “most likely to be a children’s book writer” in the middle school yearbook. In high school, I worked in the Children’s Room of my local public library, and in college I sketched picturebook outlines in the margins of my school notes. 

But I didn’t really start writing books of my own until after college, when I was earning my PhD at the University of Cambridge in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature (sense a pattern?). I began writing funny stories from my childhood while I rode the bus in the mornings, and in bed before I fell asleep at night. These stories gradually came together into my first book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire.

Cilla is based on my own family and deals with the questions, challenges, and many joys that navigating different racial and cultural identities can bring. A second book in the Cilla series, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is A Classic will be released this March, with a third Cilla book coming in 2019.

More about me: I was the 2015 Gish Jen Emerging Writers Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston, and when I’m not writing, crocheting, or reading, you can find me teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.” 

Justine-Wong-Illustration-LORESJustine Wong is a food, book, and lifestyle illustrator based in Toronto. She is the creator behind the project ’21 Days in Japan: An Illustrative Study on Japanese Cuisine’, consisting of paintings for 100 meals discovered while she traveled Japan. She has since lived in Tokyo for a year and have the pleasure of illustrating in editorial publications, story books, and advertising campaigns in Canada and internationally. Most recently, Justine illustrated her first children’s book ‘Piece by Piece’ for Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

When she is not illustrating, you can find her beach-combing along a coastline, tending to her backyard garden, or having soft conversations with her two cats Kumo and Opi. 🙂

She is also a dedicated member of Toronto creative collectives Lunchroom and Makeshift Collective, where they practice and rebuild the ways we collaborate and grow together.

The roots of the Peabody Essex Museum date to the 1799 founding of the East India Marine Society, an organization of Salem captains and supercargoes who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. The society’s charter included a provision for the establishment of a “cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities,” which is what we today would call a museum. Society members brought to Salem a diverse collection of objects from the northwest coast of America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, India and elsewhere. By 1825, the society moved into its own building, East India Marine Hall, which today contains the original display cases and some of the very first objects collected.

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