Richie's Picks: 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 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
"'Drawing again!' she would say. 'You'll never amount to
"She sounded just like my father, who believed artists were
"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
"'Are you joking? I'm only twelve years
"'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
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
"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
"'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.