In praise of Gyo Fujikawa

One evening, about six years ago, I walked into our local bookstore and bought A Child’s Book of Poems, illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa.

51huOvGijWL._SL500_AA240_It wasn’t for my boys (I wasn’t a mom yet). It wasn’t for my nieces, or for any other kids I knew.  It was completely and utterly for me.

I’ve always loved this book.  Growing up, my neighbor Becky had it, and I remember it so vividly: the thick, glossy pages; the colorful illustrations, alternating with pages of black-and-white line drawings; the children, with their round sweet faces and colorful clothing; the marvelous poetry, everything from Longfellow to Tennyson to Blake.

There was one picture in particular that always captivated me.  It was the illustration for the Rossetti poem “Who Has Seen the Wind?”.  It showed a girl standing on a grassy hillside, underneath a willow tree against a stormy sky.  The girls’ hair and the grasses on the slope and the branches of the willow were waving in the wind, dramatically, as if the sky would open and pour at any moment.  You could practically feel the restless energy of a stormy day.

So when the book was reissued a few years ago, I bought it.  Looking through it as an adult, I have to say that I love it just as much as I did thirty years ago.   It’s a charmer, yes, but it also has real substance, both in the poems and in the pictures.

As a mom, one thing I particularly like is the diversity of the children in the pictures.  Fujikawa was Japanese-American, and this book features children of a variety of races interacting and playing together in all the scenes.  According to my brief Internet research, she was one of the first illustrators to do so (this was in the 1950s and early 1960s).   It was a pretty gutsy move back then, I’m sure, and I’m glad she did it.

She also illustrated many books for younger readers, including Babies and Ten Little Babies, both of which are high on Matthew’s list of faves.  Thus far, I’ve held off on giving him  A Child’s Book of Poems; I guess I always thought he was a bit too young for it.  But you know what?   Scratch that.   I think he’s ready for it.

Or, to be more precise, I think I’m ready for it.  I’m going to love introducing him to the words and the colorful and beautiful images.  I hope they light the match of his little imagination, just as they did mine.

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