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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 12 years, 12 months ago

2 June 2011 DRAWING FROM MEMORY by Allen Say, Scholastic Press, September 2011, 64p., ISBN: 978-0-545-1686-6


"Japan and America were at peace now, but the marriage of our parents was broken.  Father took me and my sister and left Mother.  Soon we had a stepmother.  She was a kind woman, but we missed our mother.

"Mother returned to Yokohama and got a job and an apartment.  I was eleven when she came to claim us.  She took Sanae with her to Yokohama and sent me to stay with her mother in Tokyo.  I was going into the sixth grade, time to prepare for middle school, and all the good schools were in Tokyo."


On one hand, I consider DRAWING FROM MEMORY by Allen Say to be the ultra-talented literary offspring of a children's publishing era when graphic novels, other comic book-style books, and picturebooks for older readers are now all taken seriously by parents, educators, and publishers.  This is not a book that would have happened in mainstream children's publishing twenty years ago.


"Grandmother had lived alone until I came, and I made her unhappy. 

"'Drawing again!' she would say.  'You'll never amount to anything!'

"She sounded just like my father, who believed artists were unrespectable.

"I was turning twelve.  One day Grandmother said, 'I have spoken with your mother.  If you study hard and get accepted at Aoyama Middle School, we will let you live alone.'

"'What do you mean, Grandmother?' I asked.

"'We will rent an apartment for you where you can be a serious student.'

"'Are you joking?  I'm only twelve years old.'

"'I do not jest,' she said.

"I stared at Grandmother.  She wasn't smiling, but she wasn't scowling, either.'"


On the other hand, to experience the fascinating and true story of Say's work as a de facto emancipated twelve year-old, apprenticing with a brilliant Japanese cartoonist in the late Forties and early Fifties, is to recognize that the love for and value of this sort of illustrated children's literature just never goes away.


DRAWING FROM MEMORY is a picturebook tour de force that seamlessly melds water-colored pen and ink illustrations; black and white drawings and sketches; and photographs; as Allen Say reveals in words and images his childhood and adolescence up to the time that, at age sixteen, he accompanies his father to America.  There are some full-page drawings and paintings.  There are some pages that contain several chunks of text accompanied by color illustrations and/or drawings and/or photos.   And there are some series of pages where the story fully morphs into comic form with caption bubbles.  It just blows me away to open to a single spread that includes a full-color illustration of Kiyoi (Say) working with an older apprentice; a series of black and white pen illustrations that explain in pictures the illustrating work he was doing; a seventy year-old photograph of his Sensei; and copies of some of Sensei's cartooning work from back then.  That's just one two-page spread. 


"It was like waking from a dream, or maybe I was sleep-drawing.  There on the easel was the best drawing of Brutus or of any statue I had ever made.  And I didn't know how I did it.  I took it to show Sensei.

"'Well done, Kiyoi, beautiful grays,' he said.  'You've discovered the world between black and white.'"


I also really like how, amidst these wonderful illustrations, DRAWING FROM MEMORY permits our getting to know the somewhat-older young men who help Kiyoi/Say learn his craft and, at the same time, shows much of the process he goes through to become an artist.  An artist who -- as we know -- would eventually write and illustrate lots of memorable children's picturebooks and win the Caldecott Medal.


Richie Partington, MLIS
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