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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Drawing From Memory, written and illustrated by Allen Say. Scholastic, 2011. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"Even though many of them looked like characters out of comic books, it was hard to capture them in our sketchbooks. I felt jealous of photographers who could sneak up on strangers and snap their pictures on the run. But that seemed like hunting and stealing."

While resting from the first visit of the day and awaiting my friends who are taking me to the next Christmas celebration, I thought I would thank Allen Say for his very special gift to his fans, both past and future. To read Allen Say's memoir of his life as an artist is, to say the least, a most informative and engrossing journey. For me, it begins with the title. The memories he shares are so clear and strong that he gives his audience an authentic glimpse of an artist at work from a very young age. Art is central to his ability to live his life to the fullest. That he shares many personal and intimate moments in his newest book is a testament to that creative life.

Life for Allen and his family held trials and tribulations. His father was not with the family for much of his early life. But, he appears to hold no grudges in his sharing of that time with a young audience. Always an artist, despite his parents' disapproval, he illustrates a remembered time when he could not help but draw what was in his heart and head....on the wall. We watch him walk away from his beguiling and childlike mural as his parents see it through their own anger and horror. His father will not approve of his desire to be an artist. His mother, once separated from his father, finds a way for him to pursue it.

Allen is on his own at twelve, living in a small apartment that will afford him the opportunity to hone his talents under the tutelage of Sensei Noro Shinpei, a famous and much honored cartoonist. The author provides a personal look at the master, his work and his support for his few students. He also provides further information about their relationship in a valuable afterword. There are vintage photographs, words of advice and examples of Noro Shinpei's work, including the cartoons he drew of his two students getting into all manner of mischief.

Allen Say gifts us with a clear picture of many of the important people in is life: his family, Sensei, his fellow student Tokida, some of his most important teachers, and himself as a young and gifted man willing to do anything to be the artist he is meant to be. Using pictures and words he tells his story with poignancy, determination and amazing skill.

He has lived in the United States since 1953 and, if you know his other fine works, his heart remains firmly planted in Japan as well. My introduction to Allen's work was the Caldecott Award winning
Grandfather's Journey and I have gone on to read and cherish every new book that he has written. Now, I feel I know so much more about his own journey from tiny, ever-drawing, Japanese boy to acclaimed Japanese American author and illustrator. Thank you for sharing your remarkable journey, Mr. Say! I am ever grateful.

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