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Tea with Milk [Paperback]

Allen Say
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 4 2009
At home in San Francisco, May speaks Japanese and the family eats rice and miso soup and drinks green tea. When she visits her friends' homes, she eats fried chicken and spaghetti. May plans someday to go to college and live in an apartment of her own. But when her family moves back to Japan, she soon feels lost and homesick for America. In Japan everyone calls her by her Japanese name, Masako. She has to wear kimonos and sit on the floor. Poor May is sure that she will never feel at home in this country. Eventually May is expected to marry and a matchmaker is hired. Outraged at the thought, May sets out to find her own way in the big city of Osaka. With elegant watercolors reminiscent of Grandfather's Journey, Allen Say has created a moving tribute to his parents and their path to discovering where home really is. The accompanying story of his mother and her journey as a young woman is heartfelt. Vividly portraying the graceful formality of Japan, Tea with Milk effectively captures th

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From Publishers Weekly

Say's masterfully executed watercolors tell as much of this story about a young woman's challenging transition from America to Japan as his eloquent, economical prose. Raised near San Francisco, Masako (her American friends called her May) is uprooted after high school when her parents return to their Japanese homeland. In addition to repeating high school to learn Japanese, she must learn the arts of a "proper Japanese lady"Aflower arranging, calligraphy and the tea ceremonyAand is expected to marry well. Declaring "I'd rather have a turtle than a husband," the independent-minded Masako heads for the city of Osaka and gets a job in a department store. With his characteristic subtlety, Say sets off his cultural metaphor from the very start, contrasting the green tea Masako has for breakfast in her home, with the "tea with milk and sugar" she drinks at her friends' houses in America. Later, when she meets a young Japanese businessman who also prefers tea with milk and sugar to green tea, readers will know that she's met her match. Say reveals on the final page that the couple are his parents. Whether the subject is food ("no more pancakes or omelets, fried chicken or spaghetti" in Japan) or the deeper issues of ostracism (her fellow students call Masako "gaijin"Aforeigner) and gender expectations, Say provides gentle insights into human nature as well as East-West cultural differences. His exquisite, spare portraits convey emotions that lie close to the surface and flow easily from page to reader: with views of Masako's slumping posture and mask-like face as she dons her first kimono, or alone in the schoolyard, it's easy to sense her dejection. Through choice words and scrupulously choreographed paintings, Say's story communicates both the heart's yearning for individuality and freedom and how love and friendship can bridge cultural chasms. Ages 4-8.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 6-Continuing the story he started in Grandfather's Journey (Houghton, 1993), Say explores familiar themes of cultural connection and disconnection. He focuses on his mother Masako, or May, as she prefers to be called, who, after graduating from high school in California, unwillingly moves with her parents to their native Japan. She is homesick for her native country and misses American food. She rebels against her parents, who force her to repeat high school so that she can learn "her own language"; the other students tease her for being "gaijin" or a foreigner. Masako leaves home and obtains a job in a department store in Osaka, a city that reminds her of her beloved San Francisco. Her knowledge of English quickly makes her a valued employee and brings her into contact with her future husband, Joseph, a Japanese man who was educated at an English boarding school in Shanghai. They decide that together they can make a life anywhere, and choose to remain in Japan. Say's many fans will be thrilled to have another episode in his family saga, which he relates with customary grace and elegance. The pages are filled with detailed drawings featuring Japanese architecture and clothing, and because of the artist's mastery at drawing figures, the people come to life as authentic and sympathetic characters. This is a thoughtful and poignant book that will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly our nation's many immigrants who grapple with some of the same challenges as May and Joseph, including feeling at home in a place that is not their own.
Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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By A Customer
Some people probably enjoy the story of a young girl standing up to what is presented to readers as a bizarre and repressive culture. However the book offers a biased, discriminating, and unflattering picture of life in Japan from the point of view of a young woman who was raised in America and apparently resents having been forced to move. She makes no effort to understand the cultural differences between the countries and completely fails to acknowledge the things that make Japan fascinating. Another reader concluded that May and Joseph finally "decide to make a home for themselves and adopt Japan by choice". The truth is they never adopted Japan but decided to stay there anyway.
Having lived in Japan for most of my adult life, I was quite shocked when my daughter brought this book home from school. She was born in Tokyo and we were living there until recently. Pretty pictures do not compensate for a story that misrepresents Japanese culture and glorifies a narrow-minded girl.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Caught between cultures April 16 2000
By A Customer
An important theme in Tea With Milk is the fact that as people move between two cultures they often do not feel completely comfortable in either one. May's parents return to Japan because they are homesick. I would guess that they are not as Japanese as they would have been had they not lived in the U. S. Their pushing May to be so traditional could be the result of their attempt to reassimilate. May, of course, experiences most deeply the pain of immigration, and even Joseph, Say's father, is adopted, raised in Shanghai, and working in Japan. Joseph, in fact, best expresses the characters' dilemmas when he says that "home isn't a place or a building that's ready-made and waiting for you, in America or anywhere else". May and Joseph then decide to make a home for themselves and adopt Japan by choice. I found this book more positive and optimistic than Grandfather's Journey where Say's grandfather never seems to reconcile himself to living in either the U.S or Japan and remains saddened, caught between the cultures. Even the title Tea With Milk demonstrates some assimilation on the part of the parents. In a country that drinks tea plain, they drink it in the style of western countries and Allen Say states at the end of the book that that is the way he prefers his tea too. Hopefully, he has found some comfort in defining what he likes from both cultures as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars She is me Dec 9 2002
I had the occasion to see the original of the cover painting. A needle shot through my heart. I am a Japanese citizen, my mother tongue definitely Japanese, but I was brought up in the States until I was 9. When I came back, I was just so occupied to adapt and didn't realize that I was considerably lonely and uncomfortable. Worse, my parents' did not realize the fact that Japan was a new place for me, since for them, it had been their home land. Living in different places on the globe accordingly to my father's work did not end with this; we went as far as South Africa. I am now permanently in Japan, having living here for almost 15 years, but still cannot say it is my home. And there still isn't any specific place that I can call "home". I like to believe in the notion of home and belonging presented in this book, and to be able to find the strength that the girl had in breaking her way out to live as "herself" and "make a home" for herself.
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