Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review - It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Gyo Fujikawa's iconic children's books are beloved all over the world. Now it's time for Gyo's story to be told -- a story of artistic talent that refused to be constrained by rules or expectations.

Growing up quiet and lonely at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gyo learned from her relatives the ways in which both women and Japanese people lacked opportunity. Her teachers and family believed in her and sent her to art school and later Japan, where her talent flourished. But while Gyo's career grew and led her to work for Walt Disney Studios, World War II began, and with it, her family's internment. But Gyo never stopped fighting -- for herself, her vision, her family and her readers -- and later wrote and illustrated the first children's book to feature children of different races interacting together.

This luminous new book beautifully and openly touches on Gyo's difficult experiences and growth. Through Julie Morstad's exquisite illustrations, alternating between striking black-and-white linework and lush colour, and Kyo Maclear's artful and accessible writing, the story of this cherished figure is told at last.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

That cover isn't exactly enticing, and I might not have requested this book had it not been for the subject matter, and the author and illustrator involved.

The illustrations on the inside are much more engaging, and even downright beautiful in spots. I sometimes have a hard time with picture-book biographies of artists, especially when they seem to be used as a vehicle to showcase the work of yet another artist. But in this case, Julie Morstad's illustrations really work. She depicts Gyo and her family during her childhood, highlighting the girl's love of drawing and art. (It doesn't hurt that Morstad's style isn't wildly different from Fujikawa's, especially when she's drawing children and babies.)

Gyo was spared being sent to an internment camp during World War Two because of location (having been sent to New York City by the Walt Disney Company for work). Would we have had her lovely collection of work had she been in California in 1942? It's hard to say. But the experience did shape her, as her family ended up in the camps, and of course she experienced racism because of the way she looked (she was actually born in California, which makes the idea of sending her to a camp as a foreign enemy all the more ridiculous).

I didn't realize that her book Babies was one of the first to depict a diverse selection of children. The publisher balked at first because of this! But it went on to become a bestseller, proving that there's room for everyone in children's publishing.

There's a nice biographical section at the back with a timeline of her life and a few photographs. The only thing this book is really missing are some samples of Fujikawa's art (although, there may be copyright issues involved with that, so I won't hold that against the book).

Overall, this is a strong picture-book biography about a woman whose art many people may have encountered in their childhood. If you're a fan of Fujikawa's work (or even if you're not), you might find this to be an interesting read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tundra Books for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 5/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

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