“Drawn Together” by Minh Lê and Dan Santat is a truly touching, beautifully written and brilliantly illustrated picture book about bridging the gap that language and generations can cause. The story is simple; the presentation is not.
The first three pages of the story have no text, but none is needed. A boy visits his grandfather. He does not look happy to be there, but they bow politely to each other. The grandfather smiles widely and invites his grandson in, and the next page shows the meals they are eating.
The meals brilliantly depict the gap between the grandfather’s culture and the grandson because the younger boy is given a hot dog on a bun, fries, and a salad while the grandfather eats a dish with noodles, other things, and an egg on top. The grandfather eats with chopsticks while the grandson eats with a fork. Each asks the other, one in Thai and one in English, what is new. Neither understands the other, and they finish their meal in silence.
Then they sit on the couch together to watch television. Neither looks interested, and each asks, in his respective language, if they can watch something else. Neither understands the other. They sit unhappily — their inability to communicate a barrier to any relationship. Finally the boy gets up and takes his backpack to the table. The grandfather watches as his grandson takes out paper and markers and starts to draw illustrations.
Without text, the reader can see the grandfather’s face light up. The boy is happy, too, and it’s obvious that he enjoys drawing. The grandfather brings a sketch book, brushes, and ink to the table, and that’s when there is some text narration by the grandson. He says,
“Right when I gave up on talking, my grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words. And in a flash, we see each other for the first time.”
The boy has drawn himself as a wizard in bright blues and yellow with a wand while the grandfather has carefully and with great detail drawn himself in black ink in traditional dress with a huge ornate brush. They begin to draw together, the young boy providing huge swaths of color and brilliance while the grandfather provides hugely decorative fish and then a dragon.
When they find themselves on opposite sides of a huge divide with the dragon in the middle, each realizes that he has the drawing tool of the other. But determined to defeat the dragon, they each grab the other’s drawing instrument, and both make their way over the bridge and across the divide (their different languages).
The ending is beautiful and will bring a tear to the eye of any adult in the room. The child leaves his marker with his grandfather, and the boy has a brush to use and practice with. They have come together through a shared passion, and their love shines through.
This is the kind of picture book many children will want to read over and over. They will parse the illustrations to figure out who drew what in the drawings. They will learn the sparse text and read along. They will love the change from unhappy relations at the start to the joy that radiates from the pages at the end. The title itself is a clever and lovely play on words.
It’s uplifting, and the illustrations are bold and stunning. Don’t miss reading this one with a youngster you love!
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Disney-Hyperion, the publisher, for review purposes.