Sennah Yee and Elaine Chen’s new children’s book “My Day With Gong Gong” is a heartfelt story that gets to the core of cultural and language gaps within multi-generational immigrant homes. The book’s theme of unconditional familial love proves that it’s possible to break past these barriers. Through fresh and innovative writing, Yee and Chen break these concepts down in an easy to understand way for children.
The story revolves around a young Chinese American girl named May whose mother drops her off to spend the day with her Gong Gong, a Cantonese term of endearment for “grandpa on mother’s side.” While May is convinced a day with Gong Gong will be boring, her mother tells her she is sure May will have a nice time, despite the fact that she doesn’t speak Chinese.
As May is forced to go on what she sees as increasingly tedious errands with Gong Gong, while being unable to communicate with him the entire time. She quickly becomes grumpy and frustrated—not to mention getting hungry and having no way to communicate her need for food. May attempts to vocalize her wants throughout the day (a toy monkey, dumplings, pork buns), but due to the language barrier, feels ignored.
She finally reaches her breaking point when she accompanies Gong Gong to the park to play a card game with some of his friends. May storms off, scaring some pigeons in the process. One proceeds to unceremoniously poop on her coat, resulting in May crying. Gong Gong immediately springs into action, personally cleaning off her coat and scaring any other pigeons that come her way.
The pair then head home, and Gong Gong surprises May in a way she couldn’t have imagined. The love he has for his granddaughter quickly becomes evident in the last few pages of the book.
Reading this book instantly transported me back to my first trip to Japan when I was 23. Being Japanese American but speaking no Japanese, it was easy to feel isolated and frustrated throughout my visit. All of that was quickly forgotten when I met my family for the first time. Despite the fact we used Google Translate, broken Japanglish and gesturing, I could feel the unconditional love they had for me—we didn’t need to use words to express it.
Oftentimes, it’s easy to blame our family members for these miscommunications rather than the circumstances surrounding them. Yee is able to highlight this idea while also gently correcting those actions for younger audiences.
Story aside, the beautiful watercolor-esque illustrations by Chen create a soft, caring tone throughout the text. Each illustration was clearly crafted with the utmost care, adding depth and dimension to a simple story.
“My Day With Gong Gong” is a timeless story for an audience of all ages. I cannot wait to see what Yee and Chen have in store for young readers next and highly anticipate their next book.
“My Day With Gong Gong” is available now where books are sold.
Photo credit: Annick Press