Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

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When I opened the package containing Allen Say’s new graphic memoir, Drawing From Memory, it inspired a few memories of my own. As a student at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, I wrote one of my papers on Say’s work. I remember being more excited about this paper than the others because I was a long-time fan of Say’s multi-layered picture books.

The characters in Say’s books move between one place and another, but he has the ability to portray journeys of a few miles and those over years and continents with equal skill. His books, including his new one, are also about journeys that can’t be measured in miles. Many of his characters, young and old, are on a different kind of journey; they are traveling to pursue dream or establish an identity.

Drawing From Memory is Say’s memoir of his experience as a “cultural hybrid.” All of his books have been autobiographical, in spirit if not in fact, but now we have his story in his own pictures and words.  Like his Caldecott-winning book, Grandfather’s Journey, Drawing From Memory is also about journeys and dreams. The first page includes a picture of a Say as a young child and the words: “I was born in 1937 by the seashore of Yokohama, Japan.” What follows is a 62-page journey from Japanese art student to American artist, with particular attention on his mentor, Japanese cartoonist Noro Shinpei.

I’m looking forward to sharing this book with students – and revisiting some of my established favorites. If you are new to Allen Say’s work, start with Grandfather’s Journey or Tea with Milk.  Both of these books are excellent vehicles for beginning a discussion about identity.

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