Every time I sit down to write either a book review or a Perfect Pairing post, I am so grateful to the interlibrary loan system that enabled me to find so many wonderful picture books, and to my local library, that allowed me to check them out for the duration of the current closure. I truly don’t know how I’d be coping now if I didn’t have these books at hand as well as the many wonderful picture books I’ve been fortunate to have purchased in the past. And I’m grateful, too, to those who have created these treasures, including the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.
Title: It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
Written By: Kyo Maclear
Illustrated By: Julie Morstad
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books/2019
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: Japanese-American, biography, women’s history, illustration, artist, diversity, trailblazer
It began with a page, bright and beckoning.
Brief Synopsis: The biography of Gyo Fujikawa, a Japanese-American female illustrator who produced picture books filled with young children of all races in the early 1960s.
Links to Resources:
- Find a page, “bright and beckoning” and draw a picture. What did you draw? How did it feel to create your picture?
- Gyo visited Japan to study art, including wood block printing. Try this woodblock printing art project;
- Gyo’s family, although not Gyo herself, were interned in a camp for people of Japanese descent during World War II. Learn about these internment camps.
Why I Like this Book:
From her discovery of the magic of drawing as a five-year old to the creation of the first of her ground-breaking picture books fifty years later, It Began With a Page recounts the life and passion of trailblazing children’s book creator, Gyo Fujikawa. A woman pursuing a field dominated by men, a Japanese American who did not see herself, or others like her, in books for young children, Gyo made her living as a commercial artist and illustrator at a time when the stereotypical American woman was a housewife and mother. Perhaps because she existed outside these norms, Gyo noticed the lack of diversity in children’s picture books.
Realizing that a book “can be anything that anyone imagines it to be”, Gyo set out to write and illustrate a picture book featuring babies of all colors interacting. In the early 1960s in America, the publishers did not believe such a book could sell. But Gyo kept pressuring until they relented. After the first book launched successfully, Gyo continued publishing children’s picture books, creating over fifty books for children in her lifetime.
I confess to having no knowledge of Gyo before reading this biography, although I’m sure I must have read some of her books, either as a young child or as a parent. I appreciated learning about her persistence, about her desire to create art, and most especially about her need to see herself in picture books.
In back matter, the author and illustrator explain that they both loved Gyo’s work and “were full of questions” about her. I think this picture book answers these questions, for the creators and readers.
Morstad’s illustrations hearken back to the eras when Gyo was creating art. Although most of the spreads are full color, those dealing with the internment of Gyo’s family in the 1940s and the social unrest of the early 1960s are in black and white or with a limited, dark palette, lending gravity to those periods of Gyo’s life.
A Note about Craft:
Rather than focusing on one or two scenes from Gyo’s fascinating life, Maclear starts the narrative with a scene featuring Gyo drawing at an early age and continues the narrative through the publication of Gyo’s first children’s books as an author/illustrator. I think this long timeline shows readers how Gyo honed her craft, enables readers to empathize with Gyo’s sense of existing outside the mainstream American narrative, and helps focus our attention on Gyo’s persistence.
Gyo did not experience internment firsthand. But it’s clear that this deeply affected her worldview and made her sympathetic to the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Adding information about the internment adds another layer to this fascinating biography, I think, and it helps to explain why a successful artist and illustrator would persevere to create inclusive books for children.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!