“When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.”
“I Dream of Popo,” published in January of 2021, was shaped by a triumvirate of Taiwanese American women: author Livia Blackburne, illustrator Julia Kuo, and editor Connie Hsu (Roaring Brook Press). In an editor’s note, Hsu writes that signing Kuo imbued the picture book’s art with “details that only someone familiar with our heritage could, like the shoes by the front door of popo’s house, the giant sack of rice grains in the kitchen, and the Lunar New Year table laden with delicious food… this book feels like home to us.”
Both author and illustrator include personal notes to conclude the book, underscoring a particular intimacy grounded in specifics to render a book accessible to all, but tremendously significant for transnational, Taiwanese families.
I belong to one of those families, and though as a single, childless 24-year-old, I’m not the typical audience of a picture book, I am among its weepiest, most affected readers. A book like this has something for everyone, of every generation:
For the parent who has chosen distance by way of emigration, and suffers daily its incalculable griefs and sacrifices. I think of mothers and fathers reading this to their young children, missing their own parents in Taiwan, touched that despite it all – physical, linguistic, cultural barriers – the relationship between a grandchild and grandparent somehow prevails. That their particular love and tenderness somehow transcend the difficult circumstances. I hope this anchors every first-generation immigrant in a sense of belonging: no matter how suspended they may feel between two worlds, there is someone on either side that loves them.
For the overseas grandparent, who might see that these sparse moments with their grandchildren resonate far beyond the brevity of their time spent together. In the picture book, the popo reassures her granddaughter that her move will be an adventure: “You will learn and see many new things,” she says. And in return, the girl and this book respond: and I will share them all with you.
For the child who is imaginative enough, creative enough to assemble a family based on who loves them and whom they love. Immigrant children are, I think, the most generous in how they expand a household to stretch a globe -if that’s what it takes to account for their popos in Taiwan. In the book, the granddaughter video conferences her popo, who eventually grows older and unwell. “I wish,” says the girl, “I could reach across the ocean and hold her up.” I wish, I wish. In this wistful, sweet-hearted girl, I hope readers of all ages see a reflection of their own longings and values.
And then, I guess, for someone like me – that very child who sort of grew up (is still growing up), whose memories ache extra when beautifully laid here: eating breakfast as popo lifts dinnertime noodles to her mouth, popo’s jade bangle and standard-issue linen trousers. My late maternal grandparents passed away before technologies like Skype and, later, Facetime, became common. It overwhelms me with emotion that such a precious opportunity is available for my future children (though this won’t exempt them from my own experience of painstakingly writing and sending letters). That technology is an essential part of this girl’s connection with her grandmother, makes this book even more remarkable and relevant. In a pandemic era that keeps families apart, as Hsu notes, the desire to forge connection and closeness feels extra timely. But for immigrant families, this longing is timeless.
“I Dream of Popo,” written by Livia Blackburne and illustrated by Julia Kuo, is available everywhere books are sold, but especially on our Bookshop, which directs sales towards local, independent bookstores and a small donation to TaiwaneseAmerican.org at no additional cost to you.
You can get your copy of “I Dream of Popo” here— and I highly recommend you do!
Related: Tricky Taipei Interviews Julia Kuo