MTYT: It Began with a Page

By Marilyn Carpenter, Eastern Washington University, Spokane, WA, and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

We’ve reached the end of our posts celebrating artists of both the visual and written word who inspire us and sustain us. Their works remind us of the beauty of the earth, the celebration of life itself and perhaps, most importantly, the possibilities we all contain to sustain each other through times of challenge. We started with a new picturebook about Emily Dickinson, moved on to discuss a book by Ashley Bryant and then a biography of Pura Belpré. This week we consider Gyo Fujikawa in It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way.

My Take header for It Began with a Page lists bibliographic information that is available at end of post.

MARILYN: When our middle child, Wendy, was a baby her favorite book was Babies by Gyo Fujikawa. We read it together every night before she went to bed. Wendy was a very early riser, so after she was asleep I would place that book along with other favorites at the end of her crib. First thing in the morning she would sit up and “read” those books. That gave me extra minutes of sleep. She always saved Babies for last. I could tell by the delighted sounds she made that she was on that last and favorite book, so I would go in to get her to start our day. I was most delighted to read this book about Fujikawa who had gifted our family with so many hours of pleasure both for Babies and her other books.

This biography packs a lot of information about Gyo Fujikawa. The design of the book is elegant with text and illustrations in perfect balance. The text chronicles in some detail the events in Gyo’s life. Several pages show the text in large font flowing across the page as on the page that shows Kyo visiting Japan surrounded by Japanese woman in colorful kimono. The text reads, “…floated in a beautiful sea of kimono.” The pictures by Julie Morstad use a white background effectively, just as Gyo did in Babies. Only one page departs from the white background. That page is dark, chronicling the tragic time in 1942 for Gyo’s family along with other Japanese Americans, who were ordered to leave their homes to be sent to a prison camp far away. The families had to sell all their possessions. “But they were offered only pennies. ‘I won’t sell,’ said Gyo’s mother. … Instead, she set everything ablaze.” That illustration with a dark grey background show the flames consuming the family’s furniture. One of the bonuses of this book is that along with the information about Gyo, we are also discover information about Japanese Americans. I loved this book, Holly, and didn’t mind purchasing it since our library is closed because of the virus. Did you also enjoy it?

HOLLY: I loved this book, Marilyn! What an amazing woman, who like Emily Dickinson, Ashley Bryan and Pura Belpré, made a difference in the world with their art. But before we get to all of that, I am enamored with the illustrations in this book. While there is a lot of white space representing drawing paper, there are other rich illustrations in color that revolve around Gyo and her family or work. Did you notice the white page representing her days at school? Not a rich experience at all! And then the color palette representing her life after WWII and into Civil Rights? Yeah, the use of color in this book is amazing. I love the illustration of the women talking about women’s rights when Gyo was still a small child, and then the one of San Pedro where the community is predominantly Japanese. I also love the end notes about Fujikawa’s life and the notes about who Gyo was … a rule breaker! Yes! Like all of our artists this month! Do you see how they are all rule breakers, Marilyn?

MARILYN: Yes, rule breakers all. I am thinking of Ashley Bryan and how his fellow soldiers allowed him to break the army’s rules as they covered for him to do his work so he had time to sketch and paint. Gyo was definitely a rule breaker when she advocated to her publisher that her illustrations of babies should show black and white babies together. I love this quote about that incident, “But Gyo would not budge. … She said to her publisher, ‘We need to break the rules.'” I am so glad, Holly, that you pointed out that each of the biographies show how the subjects are rule breakers. Pura Belpré must have broken some rules when she changed the course of her life by staying in New York City rather than returning home to Puerto Rico. And finally, of course Emily Dickinson was a rule breaker. Just read her poetry! Reading and writing about these four books has been a treat. I imagine these biographies will make a deep impression on the children who are fortunate enough to listen to them or read them.

HOLLY: I would think Pura Belpré broke the rules by writing for children in Spanish in the 1920s, but it would be interesting to investigate! As a text set, these four books are pretty darn marvelous and a great start for young people in respect to their own ambitions in the arts. We need to share more information about poets, writers and artists and how they continue to move their fields forward by breaking rules. It is interesting that we started out talking about how inspiring artists are, and we end with the idea that they are rule breakers. And they break the rules in the best of ways! That, Marilyn, is inspiring!

Title: It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
Author: Kyo Maclear
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
ISBN: 9780062447623
Publisher: HarperCollins
PubDate: October 8, 2019

Throughout May 2020, Marilyn and Holly give their takes on books that feature art and artists who inspire and sustain us. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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