It Began with a Page- by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Published on March 25, 2022

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It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way- by Kyo Maclear

illustrated by Julie Morstad

Reviewed by Elizabeth DeVincenzo


This picture book biography introduces young readers to Japanese-American illustrator and children’s author Gyo Fujikawa.  Gyo was born in 1908 in Berkeley, California to first generation Japanese-American immigrants.   Her father was a migrant farm worker and her mother was a poet and activist.  From a very young age, Gyo loved to draw, and fortunately by the time she was in high school her teachers noticed her talent and raised money to send her to art school.  Gyo enrolled in art school in Los Angeles in 1926, a time when very few women, and even fewer Asian women went to college.     Gyo traveled to Japan, the home of her ancestors learning different art techniques, such as traditional Japanese brush painting.  She returned to the U.S. and in 1941, moved to New York City to work at Walt Disney’s studio designing books.   With the outbreak of war, her parents along with many other Japanese-Americans living on West Coast were sent to prison camps.  Gyo was devastated and wasn’t able to draw for a long time.  Eventually, she found comfort in drawing.  “When the world felt gray, color lifted her, she wondered, could art comfort and lift others too?”  Around this time, while visiting bookstores and libraries, Gyo noticed the lack of diversity in books- the same stories and a world full of only white children.  Gyo began drawing pictures of babies of all different races, and was rejected by her publisher in the early 1960s.  Eventually, her books were published, making Gyo one of the first children’s authors and illustrators to depict children of diversity in books alongside one another.  A timeline of significant events of Gyo’s life is included for more context, as well as a note from the author and illustrator, bibliography of Gyo’s books, and sources.  Illustrations by Julie Morstad are drawn in Gyo’s original style. Adults who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, may remember books and calendars with Gyo’s illustrations.    This uplifting biography is strongly recommended for sharing with young children and will perhaps inspire young artists also.  Recommended reading and to use in displays in schools and libraries for women’s history month (March) and Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May).  

Target audience:  Ages 4-8

A Kirkus Best of 2019 Picture Book

A 2020 ALSC Notable Children's Book

Boston-Globe Horn Book Award- 2020


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