Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Drawing From Memory

Drawing From Memory

Allen Say
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 11 and up
Scholastic Press, 2011   ISBN: 978-0545176866

Allen was born in a fishing village on the island of Honshu in Japan in 1937. In an effort to keep her son from playing near the water, which she feared, Allen’s mother taught her son how to read at an early age. He quickly fell in love with comic books, and decided that he wanted to become a cartoonist when he grew up. Not surprisingly, this dream meant that Allen started to draw. Everywhere. He drew on paper and on walls, and this greatly annoyed his father who thought that “Artists are lazy and scruffy people – they are not respectable.”

When the war broke out in 1941, Allen, his mother, and his sister went to live with a grumpy uncle, and when the war ended, everything changed dramatically. Allen’s parents could not hold their marriage together and they got a divorce. For a while, Allen lived with his father, and then, when Allen was eleven, he went to live with his mother. Determined to take care of her family, his mother took on the job of providing for herself, her children, and her mother. Allen’s father ceased to be a part of his son’s life.

Allen continued to draw whenever he could, much to his grandmother’s annoyance. One day she decided to challenge her grandson. If he could pass the exam to get into the prestigious Aoyama Middle School, then he can live in an apartment on his own. The idea of being free like this, at the tender age of twelve, appealed to Allen so much that he studied hard and got into the school.

Having his own one-room apartment and being able to come and go as he pleased delighted Allen. Then he dared to ask his hero, the cartoonist Noro Shinpei, to be his sensei, and by some miracle, the great man agreed to take Allen on as an apprentice. This was the beginning of Allen’s extraordinary journey as an artist.

Allen Say destroyed almost all of the drawings that he created when he young and so he had to draw from memory to tell this extraordinary autobiographical story about his early adventures as an artist. Anyone who has an interest in art will be fascinated to read about Allen’s very unconventional life as a teenager. Allen Say’s obvious affection and respect for his sensei comes through clearly in his words and art.

Though this is a story about an artist, anyone who is eager to follow the path of creating something from nothing will find this story inspirational. It speaks to artists, writers, musicians, and everyone else who dreams of living a creative life.