AMAH FARAWAY by Margaret Chiu Greanias

I wish I’d picked up a copy of AMAH FARAWAY by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak before I presented to bilingual and ESL educators a couple of weeks ago. This book explores the feeling of living in and between two cultures in a heartfelt but fun and lively way.

AMAH FARAWAY by Margaret Chiu Greanias, illustrated by Tracy Subisak. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, January 2022.

Young Kylie lives with her mom in San Francisco while her grandmother, Amah, lives in Taiwan, an ocean away. Although they connect online every Saturday, “…video chats weren’t the same as real life.” One day, Kylie and her mom take the looonnnggg flight across the Pacific to visit Amah. But once they get there, Kylie is hesitant and shy. She doesn’t understand everything her Amah says in Mandarin and is overwhelmed by a large banquet, new foods, and new sights.

Kylie and Amah’s weekly video chats (l.) and Kylie and her mom on the plane (r.)
Kylie and her mom finally arrive in Taipei (l.), where things are both strange and familiar (r.).

The thing that blew my mind about AMAH FARAWAY is its structure. It’s a reverso, also called a reverse poem. Author and poet Marilyn Singer explains in an article, “A reverso is a poem with two halves. In a reverso, the second half reverses the lines from the first half, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization — and it has to say something completely different from the first half.” I have a hard enough time writing a poem that just goes forwards — to write one that is essentially a palindrome is just amazing to me.

In the first half of AMAH FARAWAY, Kylie is uncomfortable and reluctant. “Everywhere they went,/ Kylie/ trailed behind/ Amah and Mama.” Until Amah takes them to the hot springs. This is the turning point of the story and the poem. On the spread below, Kylie is unsure.

Kylie is hesitant about getting in the unfamiliar hot springs.

But then, she has a change of heart. On the next page, we read the exact same lines as the previous page, but in reverse. And Kylie’s opinion of the hot springs (and Taipei) has done a 180° turn as well.

Kylie discovers that she loves the hot springs!

The rest of the book shows Kylie now leading Amah and Mama around Taipei, ending with a heartwarming and satisfying plane trip of — you guessed it — Amah visiting Kylie in San Francisco.

I love Tracy Subisak’s vivid illustrations, which are done in watercolor, india ink, and pastel. Both Margaret and Tracy have ties to Taipei and it shows in the way the text and art capture the culture and vibrancy of the city and its people. I also love the way Mandarin is incorporated seamlessly into the text and art, presented with Chinese characters, the phonetic pronunciation in Pinyin, and the English translation. Some of the Chinese characters are not translated, such as when Kylie and Amah are chatting over video or when Amah and Mama are talking, which I found to be a fun test of my Chinese reading abilities (which are at a Kindergarten level). Readers who know or are learning Chinese will enjoy reading the characters and maybe recognize some of the things Kylie and Amah say to each other. I laughed when I figured out Amah is singing the “Two Tigers” song to Kylie, because I had to learn that song in Chinese school when I was little.

AMAH FARAWAY is a wonderful example of a “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” book, as defined by Rudine Sims-Bishop. It can spark discussions about immigration, culture, intergenerational relationships, and language, just to name a few topics. It’s also a great mentor text for anyone wanting to try writing a reverse poem. For more info about the author and illustrator, here are their websites: Margaret Chiu Greanias and Tracy Subisak.

The endpapers are too cute not to share! And I love that the one in the front is in English, while the one in the back is in Chinese and Pinyin. More opportunities for learning and discussion!

Edited to add: I forgot to announce the winner of THE SWEETEST SCOOP from my blog post last month. The winner is…Lisa Meyer! Lisa, please look for an email from me. Congrats!

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is an acclaimed author of children’s books. Her book Watercress was awarded the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. Her other books, The Many Meanings of Meilan, Magic Ramen, and The Nian Monster, have also received awards and starred reviews. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and pandemic pup, Tupelo.

28 Comments:

  1. I had no idea about verse in reverse. Already I want to play with it. What a wonderful concept and execution in Amah Faraway! Thank you.

  2. Love this book! Margaret used such a unique structure and Tracy’s illustrations bring it to life perfectly!

  3. Great review Andrea! The book is amazing! Margaret is my long time critique partner. I’m so happy you all get to read it.

  4. Jilanne F Hoffmann

    Writing poetry with a high net (i.e. restrictions) can make for some amazing results. And I think this is a fabulous example!

  5. Agreed, Andrea! It’s a brilliant structure and a touching and powerful tale. The illustrations are lovely and so complementary too. Loved it!

  6. I put it on hold at my public library.

  7. I love books that gently teach kids about culture and family relationships!

  8. I just requested it from my library, kudos to Margaret and Traci! The structure sounds fascinating and ideal for this story.

  9. I love the idea of writing a reverso but —wow, it sounds hard! Definitely need a copy of this book to study, and loved reading your post.

  10. This book looks beautiful! And thank you…excited to get my book!

  11. Going to request this at my library. Thanks!

  12. I actually have this book checked out right now! It’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  13. I can’t wait to read and study this brilliant and beautiful book and the reverso writing style! Thank you for shining a light in this and congratulations to all for creating another wonderful book for children!

  14. Such a great book–and you are right, the structure is just really fabulous! 😍

Comments are closed