Monday, May 23, 2016

The Inker's Shadow by Allen Say

In Drawing from Memory, children's author/illustrator Allen Say chronicles his life in Japan.  Born in Yokohama in 1937 to a Japanese American mother and Korean father, all Say wanted to be was an artist.  In 1941, he fled to the countryside with his mother to escape the bombing of Yokohama,  His parents divorced when Say was 8, and, after the war, at age 12, he was given his own apartment so he could attend school.  But when he read an article about master cartoonist Noro Shinpei, Say walked 350 miles to apprentice with him.  All the while, Say had to deal with his father's vehement rejection at the idea of his becoming an artist.

The Inker's Shadow picks up where Drawing from Memory leaves off.  At 15, Say decides to go to America to become an artist.  He arrives in California in 1953 along with his father and his father's new family.  Met at the dock by his father's friend, Major Bill, Say is immediately taken to a military academy, where he is expected to be a cadet and work off his tuition.

Lacking any real friends, Say is accompanied by his cartoon double, Kyusuke, the character Noro Shinpei based on him during his apprenticeship.  Say inked a lot of Kyusuke's comic adventures, which had always caused him to be jealous of the cartoon figure's adventures.

And now, the work at the academy is hard, leaving Say no real time for art.  And to make things even harder, the other employees of the academy take advantage of Say's youth and naiveté, to the point of teaching him to drive without a permit and little ability to read English yet.  But after Say buys a $50 car that needs to be constantly filled with gas, he decides to set off on his own adventure one night, heading for New York to become an artist there.  But when his car runs out of gas, Say must ultimately return to the academy.

His angry father is waiting for him as he returns, and tells him that Major Bill and his wife did not feel Say would "make a wholesome American" and he had one week to find a new place to live.  Say left 15 minutes later.

Say checked into a run-down hotel, getting a room for $8.50 a week.  It was dumpy and Say didn't always have money for food, but once he was away from his father, Major Bill and the academy, he could finally pursue his dream of being an artist.

Now, completely on his own, Say manages to get himself enrolled in a public high school, where he meets adults who take an interest in his art and where he is given scholarships for art classes.   Of course, being Japanese, Say also runs into a lot of post-war prejudice towards Japan and its people, especially by people who had lost loved ones in the Pacific Theater.

Still, Say's drive and determination to be an artist never wavered, no matter how hard things became. Luckily, some of the adults in his life did see his potential and helped him achieve his dream. The Inker's Shadow goes only as far as Say's high school graduation, and, just as he did in Drawing from Memory, Say looks at his life with honesty, humor and plenty of poignant moments, such as being taken out to buy a suit by his art teacher and being asked to his high school prom.

It is, of course, a picture book for older readers, mixing text, illustrations, cartoons and graphics to tell the story of Say's assimilation into American culture and language and giving the reader a new look at the immigration experience during what were still volatile times in this country.

The Inker's Shadow is a nice stand alone memoir that will offer young readers with a dream hope and importation, or pair it with Drawing from Memory.  Either way, it is an inspiring story, and I kind of hope we will get a third installment of Say's life immediately after high school graduation.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press


No comments:

Post a Comment

Imagination Designs