Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, July 1, 2011

Drawing from Memory

(Cover not final)

Drawing from Memory
by Allen Say
Scholastic Press, 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-17686-6
This review copy was obtain from the publisher.
Since his 1988 Caldecott Honor for The Boy of the Three Year Nap by Diane Stanley, Allen Say has offered readers a glimpse into his childhood with his outstanding picture books, many which are autobiographical. (Grandfather´s Journey, The Inn-keeper´s Apprentice, and Bicycle Man) The combination of elegant watercolors that capture the emotions and atmosphere of his subjects, and his spare prose that conveys a sense of grace and respect, has won Say many aficionado. Yet, there are those who want to know more about this talented Japanese artist.
We now have Drawing from Memory, a memoir and Say´s latest addition to his long line of exquisite books that looks back on his childhood growing up in Japan. However, the content of this 62-page tome will surprise readers because it paints a very different picture of Say´s childhood. Gone are the loving parents found in Tree of Cranes or 
Tea with Milk. In their place we find an unforgiving father who dashes Say’s dream of becoming an artist. In Drawing from Memory Say created a loving tribute to another man, Japanese cartoonist Noro Shinpei, who Say credits with developing and supporting his creativity and love of drawing.
"I was born in 1937 by the seashore of Yokohama, Japan."  His mother, afraid of the water and worried he would drown distracted the young boy by introducing him to books.

"She taught me to read before I started school, and that made me very popular among the neighborhood kids."  Soon Say discovered comic books. "I read them for hours and stared at the pictures. I decided to become a cartoonist when I grew up."
Unfortunately, his parents did not share his enthusiasm. His father said, "Artists are lazy and scruffy people -- they are not respectable." It seems no one in Say´s family encouraged his talent. Instead, he spent many years keeping his love of comics and drawing a secret.
The outbreak of World War II in 1941 brought about many dramatic changes. Say, only four years old, along with his mother and younger sister, left their home on the shores of Yokohama, never to return.
His breakthrough came when, at age 12, Say approached Noro Shinpei and asked to become his apprentice. Say stayed with Shinpei for the next four years, until an offer to live in the United States physically separated mentor and student.
Most of the book recounts his experiences while studying under Shinpei. At times his recollections seem choppy as he moves between drawing, his growing awareness of the world around him, and his youthful restlessness. Yet, it is easily overlooked since is difficult to pack such a rich life-time in a mere 64 pages. 
Included throughout the book are Say´s drawings and black & white photographs that encapsulates his experiences living in Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima, the horrible after affects of World War II, and Japan’s reconstruction. 
With this memoir, we have a deeper appreciation of the struggles and successes Say confronted. We can only hope that this is, but the first installment in the life of one of the most beloved children´s book artists.
4+ stars
Grade 5 up

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