It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
48 pages Ages 4—8
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Nonfiction – Biography
Themes: Diversity, Gender Roles, Artist Gyo Fujikawa
Synopsis: From the time she was a little girl, Gyo Fujikawa drew pictures.
Gyo’s parents had come to California from Japan looking for a better life, but sometimes Gyo felt invisible. When high school came, Gyo’s teachers recognized her gift for creating beautiful art and got behind her. Art became her profession, and now her drawings were in magazines and store window displays.
Eventually, Gyo was asked to illustrate picture books for children. She envisioned a diverse cast of characters, explaining that she wanted “an international set of babies, little black babies, Asian babies, all kinds of babies” in the pages of her books.
Had it ever been done before?
Her Babies, published in 1963, welcomed children of all colors into the pages of a picture book for the first time, paving the way for publishers, teachers, readers, and future writers to imagine a more inclusive world.
From the beloved team of Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad comes a story that poignantly portrays the life of Gyo Fujikawa, a groundbreaking hero in the fight for racial diversity in picture books. (from publisher)
It began with a mother writing a poem and a father working a field and a little girl named Gyo drawing a picture. It was 1913, and Gyo was five years old.
Why I like this book:
It Began With a Page details Gyo (pronounce “ghee-o”) Fujikawa’s life as an artist starting from her five-year-old drawings until her picture book Babies is published in 1963. The timeline in the back matter lengthens the record to her death in 1998.
In addition to being an artist, Gyo was an activist. She refused to work with any publisher not paying illustrators a living wage. She was also one of the first to ask for royalties for her illustrative work. As important as those two things are to picture books, and those who create them, the most important advocacy Gyo did was for the inclusion of children with different skin colors and races. When a publisher finally allowed its publication, Babies hit store shelves to adoring fans. It was a smash hit! Only Gyo would have predicted this.
Gyo was a determined woman. She showed this determination when her publisher first refused to print her picture book, the one with all those babies, babies with differences never before seen in a published book. She refused to change anything. Gyo was determined to show children the world they lived in, in all its majestic differences. She wanted kids of other skin colors and religions, races and backgrounds, included so they could see themselves in a book, because . . .
“If you can see it, you can be it.”
This phrase has become a rallying cry for women, but it makes sense to me for children’s literature as well. More importantly, it makes sense to today’s picture book creators who want more diversity in their books.
Gyo bucked stereotypes as well. She knew not every girl wants to wear pink, not every boy blue. Babies develop at their own speed. One may walk months before another who spoke sooner. And it was okay. The point is children should read stories about people who look like themselves, who come from their neighborhoods, who have similar experiences. A character that looks and acts as the reader looks and acts is important so children can then see themselves as that character, able to relate. To see themselves in an adventure, exploring a new planet, or changing the world they live in.
It Began With a Page is the first I have reviewed about the “parent” of diversity and multicultural children’s books. There has been a call for diverse children’s books at least since I began reviewing; nearly thirteen years ago, and we are still just beginning to see those books published..
Gyo was possibly born too soon. She should have been applauded in 1962, or whatever year the publisher refused her book. Today she would be encouraged to illustrate diversely. She would draw praise for her work, not told “NO” by her publisher.
Now, Gyo Fujikawa is the main character in a picture book and it’s a natural fit. She is a wonderful role model for other Japanese-Americans and girls in general. Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad have given children a book that finally applauds the queen of picture book diversity.
“Welcoming kids in from the edges, from the corners, from the shadows, Gyo let each child find a place.”
Back Matter: Includes “A timeline of Gyo’s life,” which outlines significant dates in the artist’s life. This includes her high school and college days and World War I, when her family was sent to an internment camp, losing all their possessions in the process. Happier times include the publication of Babies in 1963. Interspersed are archival photographs.
Also includes “A note from the author and illustrator.” Here the two discuss how they went about researching Ms. Fujikawa and how she influenced each of them. They began with the question: “So who was Gyo?” (Answer: artist, trailblazer, rule breaker, auntie and dog lover, bookmaker)
Finally, the resources and a short bibliography of Gyo’s picture books.
Illustrations: Rendered in liquid watercolor, gouache, and pencil crayons.
It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way. Copyright © 2019 by Kyo Maclear. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Julie Morstad. Published by Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.
Available at Amazon
Copyright © 2019 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved