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For young readers: “Drawing From Memory,” by Allen Say

By Kristi Jemtegaard,

DRAWING FROM MEMORY

By Allen Say

Scholastic. $17.99. Ages 10 and up

Approached from almost any angle, this book is a treasure. Anyone interested in the evolution of an artist from childhood doodler to award-winning illustrator will be intrigued by this gracefully illustrated memoir. Aspiring artists will be enthralled by the commingling of photographic reality with casual sketches, graphic panels and delicately tinted watercolors. They’re all part of the life of Allen Say, a young man who left home at age 12 to pursue his passion: cartooning.

Students of Say’s work will revel in discovering the biographical echoes embedded in the spectacular works he has produced over his long and distinguished career as an illustrator of children’s picture books — from early works like “The Bicycle Man” (1981) to “Kamishibai Man” (2005). Though best known for his artwork, Say — who was born in Japan and came to the United States at age 15 — is also an expert at producing well-crafted prose. The caption beneath a drawing of his grandfather reverberates with masterfully shaded irony: “One day I would write a story about him in the language of the people who were bombing us.” And the understated final line of the author’s note — “This is that book” — recasts the whole memoir, in only four words, as an homage, a virtual bow to his sensei, his “spiritual father,” his master, his teacher and his lifelong friend.

— Kristi Jemtegaard

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