It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
It Began with a Page:
How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
Review Copy from Harper Kids
Gyo Fujikawa's children's books are classics. While my childhood copies of her books have gone missing, I know from my years as a children's bookseller that her work is important because she was among a handful of author/illustrators whose books were constantly on the shelf and always restocked, while new books got three months to sell or be returned to the publisher. Reading It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way, I am so grateful to Maclear and Morstad for creating this compelling picture book biography about and artist and activist who was one of the first to bring diversity to the pages of children's books.
Influenced by her mother, Yū, a poet and activist, burned the Fujikawa's possessions on the eve of being sent to a prison camp in 1942 rather than sell them to junk dealers who "offered only pennies," Gyo fought to have her first authored and illustrated picture book, Babies, which showed "an international set of babies - little black babies, Asian babies, all kinds of babies," published. In 1960s America, "a country with laws that separate people by skin color," Grosset & Dunlap (now owned by Penguin Random House) told Fujikawa that racial mixing would hurt sales in the American South. However, her persistence won out and, in 1963, one year before the Civil Rights Act made segregation illegal, Babies hit the shelves.
Fujikawa was born in 1908 and grew up in California in a home rich with everything she needed to create. She was discriminated against at school, but as she grew and became a more confident artist, her teachers took notice, even helping Gyo to get a scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute, now CalArts. Fujikawa worked as a muralist, teacher, freelancer and window designer before taking her first job in children's books, illustrating a new edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses in 1957. Before she died in 1998 at the age of 90, Fujikawa created more than fifty children's books as well as designing six United States postage stamps. In addition to being one of the first to bring diversity to children's books, Fujikawa was also one of the first children's book artists to ask for royalties and encouraged other artists to do the same. "Let's not follow the old rules," she said, "Let's make new ones." This was true for Gyo in her art and her life.
Back matter includes a superb timeline of Gyo's life, with photographs and quotes, as well as a note from the author and illustrator, both of whom were welcomed into the Fujikawa family as they researched this book. These notes round out the woman, the artist and the activist beautifully.