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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"Gyo was nervous to leave her home for the buzz and bustle of downtown Los Angeles. Not many girls, and even fewer Asian American girls, went to college in 1926.

But Gyo was determined.

She sketched statues, flowers and faces. Her sketchbooks filled up, one after another."

I did not know how much I wanted to see this book until it arrived in the mail this morning. One of the first childtren’s books we had when our kids were little was Oh, What a Busy Day! Published in the same year as our first was born, it was a wonderful book to share together. And, share it we did … for hours at a time, and over days and years. It was worn out by the time we were done with it. Erin and Bret both loved it.  Two years ago, I bought a new copy to share with my granddaughters when they are here visiting.

Gyo Fujikawa was just a name and someone to be admired for the  much-appreciated artwork.  At that time, there was little opportunity to learn more about the people who were writing the books we loved. To learn her story through the pages of this book, created by such an amazing and inspired team, is pure joy.

It was not an easy life for a single, Asian-American female artist in the early to mid-twentieth century. Born in the United States in 1908, and eventually wanting to earn a living with her art, Gyo faced many obstacles, as a child and later as an adult. Her persistence, her passion for social justice, her incomparable talent, and her need to show the book world what she saw finally won acclaim.

Kyo Maclear’s thoughtful text offers readers an authentic look at the isolation of Gyo’s childhood, the artistic path taken, the turmoil of World War II for her Japanese family, and the career that led to designing books at Disney, decorating store windows, creating stamps, painting murals, and eventually writing and illustrating books for children that showed the multiculturalism she saw everywhere she looked. At a time when few books showed any diversity, she refused to compromise, and eventually her books helped children see a ‘bigger, better world’.

"Gyo's family was sent to a prison
camp far, far away from their home.

Gyo's heart was broken.

For the next three years the world shrank,
became tiny and terrible.

Now when she gazed at a white page,
no pictures would come.

Gyo mailed her family letters and sent gifts
to her new nephew, born in the camp.

But her heart would not mend."

Julie Morstad’s liquid watercolor, gouache and pencil crayon illustrations could not be more perfect when presenting this story. The convincing settings, the times of desolation, the joy found in the children she so lovingly creates with respect for Gyo’s art are stunning.

Archival photos, a detailed timeline, notes from both author and illustrator, a selected bibliography and a list of sources are welcome and valuable. 

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