7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #729: Featuring Julia Kuo

h1 February 7th, 2021 by jules

“I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms. She sings, ‘Beibei xin, beibei gan.’
In my heart I hear: My baby, my heart. My baby, my love.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


I’m following up Thursday’s post about the tight bond and transcendent love between a granddaughter and grandmother with another post about the same. Today, it’s Livia Blackburne’s I Dream of Popo (Roaring Brook, January 2021), illustrated by Julia Kuo. And it is lovely.

Told from the point of view of a young Taiwanese girl smitten with her grandmother, the story recounts their special bond — and how the girl navigates that after her family emigrates to San Diego. The first four spreads expertly establish their relationship. On a muted palette dominated by forest green, coral, and copper hues, we take in their world in Taiwan. Soon, the girl is saying farewell at the airport and in a new home in the U.S., meeting “kids with hair of every color and skin of every shade. They say, ‘Hi.’ I say, ‘Ni hao.'” In school, the girl draws her Popo but writes “My grandma,” which feels strange to her. But during one of the girl’s first visits back to Taiwan, when she notices that her Popo seems older, she discovers that now “‘ni hao’ is what feels strange in my mouth.”

Though the girl is clearly acclimating to her new American culture, her love for Popo never fades. The book closes in an open-ended way: After hearing from Popo during a video conferencing call that she is ill, the girl sings to her, while Popo lies in bed, “frail under heavy blankets.” Not long after, she dreams of Popo visiting her in her dreams: “A breeze brushes my face, rich with the scent of gui hua.”

In a closing author’s note, Blackburne writes that she drew from her own life to write this story. “To this day,” she writes, “I can hum the tune a touchtone phone makes when dialing the long-distance code for Taipei.” This note also provides more context around the Mandarin phrases used in the book as well as Chinese New Year traditions, flowers native to Asia, and sticky rice cakes. “When you live away from loved ones,” Blackburne writes, “memories of place get interwoven with memories of people.” An illustrator’s note also explains that Kuo is a second-generation Taiwanese American, who grew up in LA but lived in Taiwan for a year when she was four years old: “When this year ended and we moved back to the States,” she writes, “I’d forgotten how to speak English!” The book’s backmatter also includes a glossary of Mandarin words.

Blackburne fills the text with variations of the book’s title — “I dream with Popo”; “I walk with Popo”; “I bow to Popo”; “I draw Popo”; etc. — which give the book a satisfying rhythm. Her first-person observations are never too precious; it is with specificity and subtle lyrical touches that she conveys the girl’s thoughts and experiences. Kuo captures the pair’s emotional and physical affection for one another in expressive spreads, most strikingly the opening and closing ones (the opening one is pictured atop this post), that feature the body language of an intergenerational bond: Popo envelops the girl in her arms with so much love, devotion, and longing. There is a pleasing balance here between the text and the pictures; moments are reduced to their essentials so that our focus remains on the bond between grandmother and grandchild.

Here are some spreads from the book. If you pick up a copy, be sure to take a peek at the cover art under the dustjacket.


“I walk with Popo in the park, squeezing her finger in my chubby palm. When I wobble, she holds me up. She pushes me on the swing and lifts me to hear the birds sing.”
(Click spread to enlarge)



(Click either image above to see spread in its entirety)


“I sit with Popo and she shows me where I’m going to live. Here is Taiwan,
so tiny, surrounded by blue. There is San Diego, far, far away.
‘You will learn and see many new things,’ she says.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


I DREAM OF POPO. Text copyright © 2021 by Livia Blackburne. Illustrations © 2021 by Julia Kuo and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, New York.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) Stacey Abrams nominated for Nobel Peace Prize.

2) LeVar Burton named Inaugural PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion.

3) Walks with friends.

4) Finally saw Queen and Slim. Can’t stop thinking about it.

5) New copyediting class. New learning.

6) Seeing the final episode of Schitt’s Creek, which has me humming this:



7) Related: This tweet from Dan Levy’s mother.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

5 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #729: Featuring Julia Kuo”

  1. Hi Imps! Hi Julia! I love that the first word I saw on the image was the word “hope.” I hope that all of the Imps and their loved ones are doing well!

    My kicks from this week:
    1) A day off
    2) Making things work
    3) Researching options
    4) New music
    5) Conclusions
    6) Try
    7) All right

  2. Being a grandmother, I can’t wait for this book.
    Jules, walks and SNL last night and Dan Levy’s mom
    LW: Enjoy your day off and thank you for you Poetry Friday contribution. I.can never post a comment at your site.
    My kicks:
    1. Did some recommend Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan?
    I read it. Posted on FB and a former student reccomended her other book.
    2. Currently reading The Snow Feel Three Graves Deep by Alan Wolf. About the Donner Party.
    3. Sourdough Pancakes.
    4. Organizing storage.
    5. Hosted Poetry Friday.
    6. Successful fundraising for the Navajo Nation.
    7. Friends on Zoom.
    Have a great year.

  3. Grandmothers and granddaughters, such a lovely relationship, these illustrations are so full of warmth, and I want to get invited to that celebration to eat all of the food featured in that great illustration!
    It also reminded me of the grandma/granddaughter relationship in the Lulu Wang movie The Farewell, one of my favorites from last year.

    Jules – walks with friends, Stacey Abrams and LeVar Burton, and the last episode of Schitt’s Creek are such joyful kicks!

    Little Willow – hooray for a day off! love new music and making things work too.

    Jone – what a great week you had! Especially love the fundraising, friends on Zoom, and sourdough pancakes.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Testified before the legislature again, this time against a bill that will have far-reaching negative impacts in criminal justice system. (Slowly getting less nervous each appearance.)
    2) Still reorganizing the home office, and its getting closer to what I want it to be.
    3) Long talks with a mentee.
    4) Watched the 1985 movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun with SJP and Helen Hunt, and was transported back to high school days. Silly and fun escape.
    5) Getting excited about some research, like a true law nerd.
    6) Dan Levy on SNL, I think my favorite sketch was the Universal Tour Guides.
    7) In remembering the incredible career of Christopher Plummer, it brought up a very fun memory of my mom, helpless with laughter at his performance as “Shitty” while watching Where the Heart Is with her. It was one of her favorite silly movies and she delighted in sharing it with me. (John Boorman directed it, its from 1990 and has a great cast and some incredible art design, with recreations of famous paintings with people painted into them.)
    7.5) Getting my valentines ready to put into the mail tomorrow.
    Bonus – walks with Daisy.

    Have a great week everyone!

  4. Jules: I still have to see that movie!

    Jone: Thanks! Sorry to hear you have difficulty posting there. The settings are set to block spam/bots, not humans! Pancakes sound delicious.

    Rachel: Sending you encouragement and confidence – You’ve got this! Hi Daisy!

  5. Little Willow: You are one of the hardest-working people i know, so I’m glad you got a day off. Let me know what you think of the movie when you watch it. I think it’s very good.

    Jone, nope, I did not recommend that book, but perhaps another kicker did? I want to read that book by Wolf. Thanks for the reminder!

    Rachel: Oh, that 7th kick. How sweet. I will have to look up that movie. Every time this week I’ve seen clips of The Sound of Music, I’m reminded of how handsome he was in that film. I remember watching it over and over as a kid and finding his performance so … haunting, I guess is the word. Love your first kick too. You are a badass.

    Have a good week, you all!

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