cover image The Big Bath House

The Big Bath House

Kyo Maclear, illus. by Gracey Zhang. Random House Studio, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-18195-9

Maclear (It Began with a Page) remembers with affection the local bathhouse her Baachan took her to during childhood visits to Japan. In bold black ink and wash drawings, Zhang (Lala’s Words) captures the girl’s arrival and the slow walk through the neighborhood as the child, her grandmother, and her aunties (who have “big stories and bigger purses”) stroll along in yukata, enter the bathhouse, and wash (“the aunties scrub each other’s backs”). Then everyone soaks in the hot water together, “a chorus of one long breath:// Ahhhhh.” Against a tile backdrop, dazzling candid portraits capture groups of nude girls and women of various ages, shapes, and skin tones sharing the big communal pool: “You’ll all dip your bodies,/ your newly sprouting,/ gangly bodies,/ your saggy, shapely,/ jiggly bodies,// your cozy, creased,/ ancient bodies./ Beautiful bodies.” Maclear and Zhang portray with great warmth the nourishment offered by this cultural institution, making clear to readers the ritual’s cozy, home-away-from-home feeling. In this treasured familial memory grounded in a specific place, tender nakedness resolves into an undressing of both emotional and physical selves: “You’ll reach for Baachan’s hand, and she’ll reach for yours./ And it’ll be understood.” An author’s note discusses the book’s origins. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists. Illustrator’s agent: Hannah Mann, Writers House. (Nov.)