Friday, August 18, 2017

Gyo Fujikawa's Multicultural Kids

Japanese American Illustrator was a pioneer in depicting multiethnic children in picture books.

I have long been drawn to vintage children's books, but something they lack overall is diversity. Not so, with the books from author/illustrator Gyo Fujikawa (1908-1999).

Way ahead of her time, the California-born illustrator is noted as the first to depict children of many races in her books in the early 1960s. 

It was not a smooth road. Her book "Babies" was illustrated with a racially diverse cast of sweet little babies. A sales executive at Grosset and Dunlap told her to remove the black babies because it would hurt sales in the South. But she refused and continued to depict the diversity of children that portrayed real life. 

gyo fujikawa diverse babies

 Fujikawa experienced racism through her family members who were sent to a Japanese interment camp in Arkansas after the Pearl Harbor bombing. She was working in New York at the time and escaped that fate.

gyo fujikawacome follow me

Fujikawa's illustrative style was full of details, a technique she developed while working for Disney.  "In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind--will this picture capture a child's imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story?"  

Fujikawa multicultural children

Her children are sweet, nostalgic and full of joy. They are the type of books children can keep returning to and spend hours and hours connecting to the characters. 

"Children want facts," Fujikawa once told an interviewer. "[W]hen many things are mentioned, I include them all in the art because I know children sit and look for them when the stories are read." LA Times

Multicultural illustrator pioneer

Fujikawa never had children of her own, but yet she understood children. She explained, "Although I have never had children of my own, and cannot say I had a particularly marvelous childhood, perhaps I can say I am still like a child myself. Part of me, I guess, never grew up.'' New York Times


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