Grandfather's Journey teaches Connecting Generations
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Grandfather's Journey teaches Connecting Generations

Book Title: Grandfather's Journey

Author: Allen Say


Book Summary:

Lyrical, breathtaking, splendid—words used to describe Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey when it was first published. At once deeply personal yet expressing universally held emotions, this tale of one man’s love for two countries and his constant desire to be in both places captured readers’ attention and hearts. Winner of the 1994 Caldecott Medal, it remains as historically relevant and emotionally engaging as ever.

Enduring Understandings:

  • L’dor v’dor means knowing the history of our people and learning from the history of our own families and communities. 
  • Our “home” can be defined in many ways, meaning different things to different people, and sometimes a person might have more than one. It might refer to the place in which the family lives, the country where they live, the synagogue in which they worship, etc.

Essential Questions:

  1. What causes people to leave their countries and their homes? 
  2. What makes a place a home? 
  3. What does it mean to go on a journey?

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

The value of l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation –connects our history with that of the past and the future. Judaism places great importance on the transference of memory so that it may always be for a blessing. When we remember that which came before us, and embrace the knowledge gained from those who came before us, all of our stories become as one. L’dor v’dor means for us to recall the struggles of our ancestors; to remember Egypt, to remember the fall of the Second Temple, to remember the expulsion from Spain, and even remember the Holocaust. Jewish identity is founded in this history and links us to those who are also in covenant with G-d and those who share this history.

L’dor v’dor not only means knowing the history of our people and learning from that history, but also learning about and learning from the history of our own families and communities. It is our family that provides the foundations for the lessons we learn. However, it is the responsibility of the entire community to bring up the next generation. We connect with our Judaism from the actions of others – our parents, our teachers, from all members of the community. We take this knowledge and wisdom accumulated over the centuries and apply it to our lives today. L’dor V’dor is not just about embracing the past, but uplifting the past’s relevance in our own time and place.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to pass on to those whom you love? 
  2. As a teacher, what is one thing you want to pass on to your students? 
  3. In what ways can we encourage students and families to explore the legacy of the generations that came before them: the ways they faced challenges, connections they still have to countries left behind, and how their lives enriched the live of each generation that came after? 
  4. How can the value of L’dor v’dor be incorporated within the classroom?

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Copy Of Grandfather’s Journey


Read Aloud of Story:
Neil Diamond singing “America”:

Sharing The Storymore

Introducing The story

As an introduction to immigration, play the Neil Diamond song “America” (from The Jazz Singer Soundtrack, originally recorded in 1980). You may wish to show this video of Diamond singing the song: _

Discuss the following in addition to student questions and reflections:

  • What do you think this song is about? 
  • What brought people to America? 
  • Do you recognize the last few lines of the song? They are from “My Country ’tis of Thee.”
Discuss the title and cover. 
  • Ask students to explain what the term “journey” means. Ask,“Have you ever traveled to a distant city or country?” Have them share a journey they have taken. Locate these cities or countries on a map. 
  • What do students believe the book might be about? 
  • Encourage students to look at the person in the illustration and his clothing. Who might he be? Where was the picture taken? Where is he going? 
  • Explain the terms “immigrant” and “immigration” and the fact that Grandfather’s Journey is about the author’s grandfather who “immigrated” to America from Japan. 
  • On a map, point out where Japan is located as well as San Francisco, where Grandfather ultimately lived. Have them suggest what routes Grandfather may have taken from Japan to America’s West Coast traveling by ship. 

Reading The Story

Read the first two pages of the book aloud. Have students describe the clothing that Grandfather was wearing when he lived in Japan. Have students compare it to the clothing he wore on the ship taking him to America. Ask why he might have changed the style of clothing he wore.
Read the rest of the book and encourage discussion of the following, as well as student observations, questions, reflections, etc.:

  • Grandfather explored North America and visited many different areas. Can students identify where he might have been when he saw the “rocks like enormous sculptures,” the “endless farm fields,” “huge cities of factories and tall buildings,” or the “towering mountains and rivers”? 
  • Why did Grandfather leave America and return to the place of his birth (Japan) 

After The Story

Discuss with students:

  • If you were to leave your home, what things about your city,state, or country would you miss most?
    • As appropriate, an extension of this discussion might be discovering a way that appreciation for a person, place or thing that would be missed could be expressed.
  • Allen Say, the author of the book, decided to live in America, yet he returns to visit Japan when he can. At the end of the book he wrote, “The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.” 
    • What do you think “homesick” means? Why might a person become “homesick”?
  • Ask students to think of the places in their life that feel like home. 
    • What attributes of a place are necessary to make them feel that way?
    • Do they have multiple places that feel like home (be sure to be sensitive and supportive to the needs of children who might have atypical home living situations)
  • How can being with your family make a place feel like home?
Family Journeys
Assign students the task of discovering their own family’s history of home and culture, Tracing the countries that their families have lived for previous generations, as far back as possible.

Post a large world map in the classroom and give each student a different colored marker, and ask children to plot the living locations of their families on the map. Each child should connect the places their families have lived (this means that the plots will overlap, particularly near where you community is located. Look for patterns and concentrated areas.

Encourage each student to find a way to celebrate their family’s heritage, giving the students options that might include bringing in a snack, type of music, image or other presentation that presents the culture of their family’s location in previous generations.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

G-d Bless America
The Jews who immigrated to America became strong supporters of their new homeland and the freedoms it allowed. Some of the most popular American songs were written by Jewish immigrants. “G-d Bless America,” for example, was written by Irving Berlin, who was born in 1888 in Eastern Russia. His father, a cantor, brought the family to America and settled in New York City in 1893. With the help of your school’s music teacher or a video like this:, teach students Berlin’s song-his prayer for America.

G-d Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
G-d bless America,
My home sweet home.

Patriotic Collage:
Using magazines such as National Geographic, have students cut out pictures of places in the United States that include the types of geographic features that Grandfather saw. Have them create collages that reflect “America the Beautiful.” Use the internet to locate these geographical areas in United States.

An American Tail
Have students watch An American Tail. Originally released in 1986, this animated film produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is the story of Fievel, a young Russian mouse whose family decided to move to America, a land “without cats.” During the voyage, Fievel is swept out to sea but fortunately survives and washes up in New York Harbor. Alone in a new country, Fieval sets off on a journey to find his family. Along the way, he must deal with many challenges, including the loneliness of being away from home. As you and your students watch this film, discuss how the film reflects some of the reasons for immigration and problems immigrants face. This film is rated “G.”

Music Connectionsmore

List of All Songs

Many Jewish families have a connection to Israel, either through experience living there, family or friends who live there, or by virtue of the fact that it is a Jewish country. The national Anthem, “Hatikvah,“ has been performed in many different ways with different cultural influences. Play the Israeli National Anthem “Hatikvah.” Explore different versions of the song, each influenced by different cultural elements: Talk about the importance of Israel, the Jewish Homeland, to the Jewish people in Israel, America, and throughout the world.

Evidence of Learningmore

Students are able to describe their personal family history regarding the countries where previous generations have lived.


Create an “Oral History Library.” Invite relatives and community members who have immigrated to the United States to speak to your class to discuss their journeys to America and the reasons for immigrating here. Ask them to bring pictures and other artifacts that can be used to add visual context to their stories. Prepare students on interviewing techniques. Have them brainstorm possible questions such as: 

  • When did you immigrate to America?
  • What made you/your family decide to come to America?
  • What did you bring with you?
  • What were some of the first things you saw?
  • What was the most difficult thing for you when you first came to America?
  • What do you miss about your homeland?
  • What do you appreciate most about this country?