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The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China
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The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  492 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
I knew nothing could happen to us within those walls, in the house Baba built.

In Ed Young's childhood home in Shanghai, all was not as it seemed: a rocking chair became a horse; a roof became a roller rink; an empty swimming pool became a place for riding scooters and bikes. The house his father built transformed as needed into a place to play hide-and-seek, to eat bamboo
Hardcover, 48 pages
Published October 3rd 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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2012 Mock Caldecott
56th out of 86 books — 191 voters
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Books that feature Large Families
66th out of 116 books — 13 voters

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Community Reviews

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Lisa Vegan
Dec 26, 2011 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of biographies, of history, of childhood stories, and Ed Young fans

This is a stellar true story, a biography of sorts, by one of the sons of Baba. During the Great Depression and then WWII, Baba kept his family safe. He was smart and clever and principled, and skilled. He built a house for his family, and was eventually joined by extended family and a refugee family from Germany. This was in Shanghai. Somehow, Baba managed to not only protect his family from bombs and invaders but from fear as well.

The multimedia illustrations, made up of real phot
Edward Sullivan
Sep 09, 2011 Edward Sullivan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, china
Ed Young's memoir about his childhood home in Shanghai is an astonishingly beautiful, exquisitely designed work of art, a genuine masterpiece.
Sep 04, 2011 GraceAnne rated it really liked it
The art is wonderful, inventive, brilliant. The story could easily be used by a middle grader for history, biography, or art study. Or all three. It is definitely one of those picture books that needs an older audience and it will draw them in.
Mar 07, 2016 Teresa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: diversity
Very moving, and a fascinating picture of a culture in transition. One of his very best works.
Alex Baugh
Dec 31, 2012 Alex Baugh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-2
About a year ago, I reviewed Allen Say's autobiographical work Drawing from Memory and the effect World War II had on his life growing up in Yokohama, Japan. Ed Young's The House Baba Built is also an autobiographical work and describes his life in Shanghai, China during the war.

Ed Young's father was an engineer and realizing that war was coming to China, he decided he needed a safe place for himself, his wife and five children to live in. The safest place would be around the foreign embassies i
Nov 08, 2014 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: 520mclit, 520info
In The House that Baba Built, Ed Young invites readers into his personal story with an autobiography exploring his childhood years in Shanghai. The story is set in the 1930s and opens with Ed’s father looking for a safe place for his family to live as the war creeps closer to Shanghai. With little money, Ed’s father strikes a deal that allows him to build a home in the safe embassy neighborhood of Shanghai and live in the house for 20 years after which he would give up rights to the house. This ...more
Oct 07, 2013 538pm_juliejanowitz rated it it was amazing
I was not prepared for the inexplicable beauty that is The House Baba Built. Ed Young details his days as a young boy using brilliant illustrations that explore every medium and fresh prose that provide detailed history. Young invites us into his past…into the house is father built. Young’s memoir is a tribute to his father, and I think he honors his father beautifully with this work he created. Young tells his story with funny anecdotes that give the reader a picture of his everyday life as a ...more
Ed Young, winner of the 1990 Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po and recipient of two Caldecot Honors(including one for Seven Blind Mice, which I love!), grew up in China, during World War II. His father, Baba, built a home for his family--five children, his mother, himself--the part of Shanghai safest from the Japanese bombs. I think the interesting part about this book is just how normal it all seems, despite there being a World War taking place in this family's backyard: the children are always ...more
Oct 11, 2011 Barbara rated it it was amazing
What a treasure this memory-filled book is! The multimedia illustrations by Ed Young, who himself is an artistic treasure, are filled with images of the artist and his family during their early years in Shanghai. In order to keep the family safe, Ed's engineer father designed and built a house on the edge of the town. So structurally sound was the house [Ed's father built double-tiered walls from bricks and covered the roof with concrete--that it survived World War II, something the illustrator ...more
Oct 08, 2013 Bobby rated it really liked it
Author Ed Young retells and brings to life the days of his childhood in Shanghai during World War II. Young recalls the house he grew up in with his sister and brothers, as well as with cousins. The House Baba Built is a biography told by Young about the house his father built to give the family a better life. This book is a solid choice for a 4th grader to read on his or her own, but also to great to book for a teacher to share in any elementary classroom. It has easy, yet sophisticated ...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
I would like to give this book 4 stars, because I enjoyed the text very much. However, I didn't care for the illustrations, which were of cut and torn paper, drawings, and photos compiled into collages, some of them opening out into 3-page spreads. They just didn't appeal to me. Ed Young talks about growing up in Shanghai in the house his father built, during the 1930s and through World War II. I was surprised to learn that the activities they enjoyed, the movies, the books, and games, were no ...more
Dec 27, 2011 Dolores rated it it was amazing
I'm always intrigued to read about the childhood of authors, because they are often so fascinating. All that creative energy has to come from somewhere, right? Ed Young is no exception. This loving tribute to a childhood lived amidst a war, but somehow cushioned, insulated from it all. In the house his Baba built, he felt safe, and obviously, very loved. It sounds as though it was a house filled with people, laughter and fun. And his father was a clever and giving man, who offered a place for ...more
Nov 29, 2011 Wendy rated it it was amazing
I read this book not long after reading Drawing from Memory - two fascinating memoirs set around Asia during and after WWII. This book is less about Young's artistic influences as what his family did to survive WWII, but the layouts are quite interesting. I also must confess a weakness for this book since my mother also lived in Shanghai during the war, and it gave me a springboard for talking to her about her experiences.
Nov 15, 2016 Stacey rated it really liked it
I wanted more from the text, but the illustrations are fantastic and my seven year old was enthralled.
Born in 1931 the fourth of five siblings, Ed Young spent the years of the great depression, Japanese occupation, and World War II in a magnificent environment thanks to his father’s building skills and negotiating acumen. The esteemed Young, a senior talent in the world of children’s literature, celebrates his baba’s loving care and his extended family’s safe passage through terrible times in this collage-illustrated memoir.

In exchange for building the house on a Shanghai property he couldn’t af
May 01, 2014 Rachel rated it really liked it
This is a story that demonstrates the significance of family and friends and helping others within the community. This story is a biography of “Eddy’s” view of the events happening within the house Baba built in China during World War II.
Though most of my students probably have not come from a physically war-stricken nation, they may relate to some of the activities the kids in the book played for fun. Most children have played hide-and-seek, played in the water and watched movies. These charac
Audience: Primary/Intermediate
Genre: Non-fiction, Informational, Picture Book
Fiction Twin Text: The Black Orchestra by JJ Toner

The House Baba Built was an excellent book. I thought it was full of important information, and the pictures were also very interesting. I really liked how some of the pictures looked like old photographs and others seemed more like illustrations. This book is set in the years leading up to WWII and throughout the war as well. I love the perspective of this story. It tak
Aug 15, 2012 Brenda rated it it was amazing
What a fun story about a man with great foresight and skill. Ed Young's father came up with a creative plan to build a big house for his family in a safe area of Shanghai. This must have been an amazing house, but equally amazing is his children's ability to be so creative in the house. The children were imaginative and playful and had many wonderful adventures in the house.

I like the way this book was created. There are many interesting text features that add to the interest of the book. The il
Dec 03, 2011 Terri rated it really liked it
"The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China" by Ed Young is a visually stunning memoir of Young's childhood growing up in "the house that Baba built" in Shanghai. The mixed medium artwork, as well as the text express warmth, peace, and comfort - though World War II is raging around them. Young's father wanted to build a house in the safest part of the city, but the land was too expensive, so his father made a deal with a wealthy landowner. He would build a large, brick house with a ...more
Oct 17, 2013 Thomas rated it really liked it
Shelves: ch-02-ncss
The time that the family of Hardy had lived was world-war II. They lived the same as the rich children and lived in a comfortable house. Whoever knows about the residents in Shanghai, everyone guesses that people in Shanghai must be rich. An Artist’s childhood in China, Ed Young, had undergone a terrible experience of life because of the war. The Japanese was spreading out the invasion to China and other countries in south-east Asia at that time. When the Nanjing government and soldier defenders ...more
Apr 30, 2015 Linda rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and books like this -- such as Allen Say's Drawing from Memory -- whet my appetite to know more about these gifted artists who grew up in another culture but have contributed so much to children's literature in the U.S.
In this picture book memoir, Ed Young tells us of his happy childhood in Shanghai, China during a period that you might expect to not be so happy. That he was safe during the war years of the 1930s and 40s was due the foresight of his father (Baba) who was able t
Judy Desetti
Jan 16, 2012 Judy Desetti rated it really liked it
This is a memoir of illustrator and author Ed Young's (Lon Po Po- Caldecott winner) family as a young boy living in China in the 1930's when Japan invades its shores and starts a war to control the nation. In this story the boy's father builds a house and moves his young family in. He built the house to stand in a safe place and built the walls to withstand bombs. The story tells how the family lived and the children played. It also eludes to the deteriorating effects of the war as other ...more
Dec 09, 2011 Tasha rated it really liked it
Illustrator Ed Young grew up in Shanghai during World War II. His father managed to get them a house that was safe because he built it himself. He made a deal with the landowner that he would build a house and after 20 years, the landowner would get it free and clear. But in those 20 years, Ed Young’s family lived there. It was a huge home with a swimming pool, space to roller skate on the roof, staircases to slide down, and lots of other places to play. This is the story of growing up in that ...more
Kathy Gunn
Apr 13, 2015 Kathy Gunn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-s-lit

A beautiful memoir of growing up in China during the depression and World War I. Eddy and his family lived in Shanghai in a home is Baba built. A home where several families found refuge during the water, where childhood games, swimming and skating were the norm. The pages are filled with incredibly creative artwork made with sketches, drawings and real-life objects layered together. Amazing!

Themes: China, WWI, Family, War, Childhood

Ideas: Compare some of the childhood activities the autho
Erin Reilly-Sanders
I sort of both loved and disliked this book. The illustrations have an odd color palette that is beautiful and intriguing at the same time as it is unsettling, especially coupled with the odd mix of media and the sense of time and repetition in the images. At the same time, the overall feel of the book is warm, tender, and comfortable, inviting the reader right in to the house in Shanghai. The pattern of the "story" and the simplicity of the words work well together. They seem to create a sort ...more
Feb 04, 2014 Helen rated it it was ok
The House That Baba Built is Ed Young's memoir of his childhood in Singapore during World War 2. Written for children, the collage style illustrations are large and filled with cricket hunts and swimming pools. They're lovely and interesting, but also dark and spread out, and don't always correlate to the words on the page. The story itself is more a collection of memories, and don't have a cohesive thread. In the afterward, Young discusses how it was difficult to write the book, and needed the ...more
His father's insight into world events, engineering knowledge, and negotiating acumen allowed Young's family to live reasonably comfortably and safely in China during the Depression, occupation, and World War II. Visually gorgeous mixed media combine with Libby Koponen's lyrical text to draw readers into the safe environment created by his parents. Young includes old family photos, sketches of siblings,relatives, and refugees, and diagrams of the house, using the book's large format and fold-out ...more
Amanda Guenther
May 01, 2014 Amanda Guenther rated it it was amazing
The House BABA Built, is a book that I think children of all cultures and backgrounds can relate to. I would use this picture book as a tool to teach children about other cultures and how they live and talk about the similarities and differences. The children will be relating text to self by comparing what is in the house Baba built and what is in their own house. We will imagine that things in our house come to life or pretend they are something they are not, just like in the book. The children ...more
Lillian Cristina Loys
Oct 31, 2013 Lillian Cristina Loys rated it really liked it
Shelves: fab-40-final
Genre: International
Grade Level: 3-4
Awards: Norman A. Sugarman Award (2012)

How to use in a classroom:
This book is the story of the author, Ed Young's childhood. It tells the story of how outside the walls of the house his father built, there was a war, but inside the house, he created his own world where he'd never grow bored and he'd be able to escape the ugliness happening outside those four walls. It talks about imagination, and how imagination is important for the sanity of anyone, specially
I took this book out of the library for the illustrations. Ed Young is always worth looking at. Here he combines drawing, collage, and actual photos to describe the chaotic war years his family spent in Shanghai. It captures beautifully a child's point of view--how the real and the imaginary merge in a riot of movement, pattern, color, sound.

The story is also a good one, combining global and personal history.

Baba was both resourceful and wise:

Dear Children,
...You may put down as rule No. 1 that
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Ed Young is the illustrator of more than eighty books for children, seventeen of which he has also written. Among his books is the Caldecott Medal winner Lon Po Po, which he both wrote and illustrated. He says that his work is inspired by the philosophy of Chinese painting. He lives in Westchester County, New York.
More about Ed Young...

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