This page provides information to support educators and families when teaching K-3 students about the writer Allen Say. It is designed to complement the Allen Say topic on BrainPOP Jr.  

Author studies allow children to learn about a writer’s life and explore their more closely. They help children make connections between different books and stories and learn about character, setting, theme, and other story elements. This movie explores the life and work of Allen Say, a Japanese-American writer whose books explore themes of belonging, culture and cultural changes, and the meaning of home. We recommend checking out our other author movies, including Eloise Greenfield, Cynthia Rylant and Ezra Jack Keats

Allen Say was born in 1937 in Yokohama, Japan. Growing up, he loved comic books and often read them aloud to kids in his neighborhood. Soon he began writing and drawing his own comics and decided he wanted to be a cartoonist when he grew up. Remind children that a cartoonist is a person who draws cartoons and pictures that go along with words to make a story.

When he was 12 years old, Allen went to school far away from home. He happily lived by himself in his own small apartment. One of Allen’s heroes lived nearby, a cartoonist named Noro Shinpei, so Allen went to visit. Shinpei became Allen Say’s mentor, teaching him how to draw and paint. Tell children that a mentor is a person who teaches someone and gives them advice. 

At 15, Allen and his family moved to America. He was sad to leave his home, but excited to move to a different country across the ocean, just as his grandfather had done many years before. As an adult, Allen Say began to write about people who undergo journeys like his and his grandfather’s.  

In his book, Grandfather’s Journey, a Japanese man visits America for the first time. He explores the country and likes it so much that he decides to move there. However, as he got older, he began missing Japan. So, he moves back—and is happy, but he starts missing America. 

In Tea with Milk, a nine-year-old girl moves from America to Japan. Her new home is really different, which makes her frustrated and sad. But over time, she begins to love her new life and combines parts of American and Japanese cultures together. 

In Erika-San, the main character has dreamed of living in Japan ever since she was a little girl. She moves to a city in Japan, but it’s not what she expected—it doesn’t feel right. Erika starts exploring different parts of the country and finds a place that feels like home.

Ask children what these stories have in common. All of these characters move to a new country and experience a different culture. At times, Allen Say’s characters all feel happiness and sadness and confusion. Ask children if they’d like to move to a new country. Would it be scary or fun—or maybe both? 

A theme is an idea or message that is explored in a piece of writing or artwork. Allen Say’s themes are around the experiences of people who’ve moved from different cultures. They learn to appreciate both places, in different ways. 

The characters in Allen Say’s books all learn something important about who they are. In Allison, the main character is adopted, and in The Favorite Daughter, a character has parents from two different countries. Sometimes, the books are about people who go through really tough times: Music for Alice and Home of the Brave are about wartime experiences. 

Like many writers, Allen Say draws from his own life. In Kamishibai Man, a man travels around a Japanese village and uses his drawings to tell stories. That’s similar to how Allen Say read comics to his friends when he was little! 

Ask your children to write their own stories about their lives or families. They can write comic books about their experiences growing up, or create a picture book. Encourage children to read books about their own and other cultures, so they can understand their world a little better.