STARRED REVIEW
January 07, 2021

I Dream of Popo

By Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo

A young girl stays in touch with her beloved grandmother, Popo, when her family moves to the United States from Taiwan in this exuberant picture book.

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A young girl stays in touch with her beloved grandmother, Popo, when her family moves to the United States from Taiwan in this exuberant picture book. Inspired by author Livia Blackburne’s personal experience of emigrating from Taiwan when she was 5 years old, the book also features the work of Taiwanese American illustrator Julia Kuo.

In plainspoken yet evocative first-person narration, the girl recalls her favorite memories of her grandmother, beginning from her babyhood: “I dream with Popo as she walks me in her arms.” Readers see the growing girl and Popo walking in the park, celebrating the new year with special foods and looking at a globe to find San Diego, where the girl moves with her parents. Even though they are apart, Popo remains part of the girl’s life as the two connect online, which is cleverly shown in a fun double-page spread of each person's screen, complete with the small reverse-camera image in the upper right-hand corner.

Kuo’s colors are bright and vibrant, while subtle details effectively capture the differences of daily life in the U.S. and Taiwan. Readers see Chinese characters on a wall calendar and the skyline of Taipei in the backdrop of the park. During their online video call, the protagonist eats a bowl of cereal for breakfast while Popo uses chopsticks to eat her dinner of noodles. In her new home, the young girl gradually adjusts and makes new friends, “kids with hair of every color and skin of every shade.”

Another clever spread shows two sheets of drawings the girl makes at school; she illustrates pictures of the English words she is learning alongside the Chinese characters. As she becomes more familiar with English, she begins to lose some of her first language, and its words become “hard to catch, like fish in a deep well.” But when they return to Taiwan for a visit, her mom reassures her that she can still hug Popo “as tight as before.”

I Dream of Popo balances the bittersweet experience of being separated from family with an affirmation of the enduring bond between grandmother and granddaughter. Its backmatter, which includes reflections and family photos from both the illustrator and author, adds context and depth to its depiction of the contemporary immigrant experience. This is a lyrical and heartfelt tribute to the power of love across geography and generations.

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I Dream of Popo

I Dream of Popo

By Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo
Roaring Brook
ISBN 9781250249319

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