Eyes that Speak to the Stars, by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho, is the brilliant follow-up to Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. The book opens with a scene all too familiar to anyone who has grown up Asian American in the US. A young boy comes home from school hurt, because a classmate drew him a picture with “eyes like two lines stretched across his face”–not the round eyes that every other one of his classmates was drawn with. He tells his father, “But it didn’t look like me at all.” It’s a sad rite of passage that too many Asian American children have gone through, being made fun of the shape of their eyes. Sometimes in drawings, sometimes in that way that children (and sadly adults) pull on their eyes in a mockery of Asian eyes. Sometimes it’s intentional bullying, sometimes it’s stereotypes and a lack of awareness. Either way, it hurts, even if, as the young boy says, it never resembles us at all.
Eyes that Speak to the Stars takes that hurt and turns it into a beautiful message–how the young boy’s eyes are like his Baba’s, his Agong’s, his Didi’s, how magical and special they are, eyes that speak to the stars. It’s also a loving reflection on intergenerational relationships, how the boy is connected to his father, his grandfather, and then looking forward with hope, his love and connection to his baby brother.
Joanna Ho’s writing has a wonderful lyrical and cyclical quality to it, perfect for this kind of story book for children. And Dung Ho’s sweeping illustrations are imaginative, colorful, and filled with beautiful little details. I particularly love one showing Agong’s memories as he and his grandson play a game of Chinese chess. The two are seated at the center of the spread while around them swirls images from Agong’s life, including rice fields and a night market where vendors are selling mango milk and dumplings.
And if this doesn’t convince you to check it out, I loved Bookstagrammer Shuli’s (asianlitforkids) reflection: