by Allen Say
Oregon Book Awards, 2013, Children’s Category
The jacket cover of writer illustrator Allen Say’s DRAWING FROM MEMORY depicts twelve-year-old Say floating in his new apartment. In post World War II Tokyo, he has just passed tough middle school entrance exams and his mother has allowed him to be an independent scholar. But Say is not floating with happiness because he can study. He is ecstatic because he now has an art studio. All he has ever wanted to do is draw, to become a cartoonist like Japan’s famous Noro Shinpei, a pioneer of today’s Manga.
This memoir, presented in graphic novel style, is based on Say’s autobiographical novel, The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice. It’s an extraordinary story of how a young boy realized his dream through perseverance and the good fortune of studying with his hero. Alan Say started his apprenticeship filling in the cartoon backgrounds, inking in clothing and preparing tea for his sensei, his teacher. His middle school art teacher introduced Say to a former student who was a serious artist. Orito-san became another mentor and encouraged Say to draw classical forms.
Later, Shinpei sent Say to life drawing class, saying, “Drawing is never a practice. To draw is to see and discover. Every time you draw, you discover something new.” Another time he said, “Painting is a kind of writing, and writing is a kind of painting they are both about seeing.”
DRAWING FROM MEMORY is filled with sketches, illustrations, family photos and even Shinpei’s cartoons. I love books set in Japan and after reading this book, The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice, Grandfather’s Journey and The Bicycle Man, I will seek out Allen Say’s other picture books.
Listen to Reading Rockets’wonderful interview with Allen Say talking about his career. There he says his idea of imagination is “rearranging your memory.”
Award-Winning Book Challenge Status: 5/11