It Began With a Page by Kyo Maclear

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way By Kyo Maclear, Illustrated by Julie Morstad (2019) – hardcover

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Recommended ages: 5 to 9

It Began With a Page is an enlightening biography of Gyo Fujikawa, a pioneering Japanese-American author-illustrator who, in the early 1960s, broke the color barrier in children’s publishing. She also became a labor rights advocate, becoming one of the first illustrators to ask for royalties and fair pay for her work. 

After a quick internet search on Gyo Fujikawa, you would be pressed to find an extensive biography of this groundbreaking figure. The dearth of information and awareness of Gyo Fujikawa is disappointing, to say the least. In preparation of this book, the author and illustrator gained unprecented access to Gyo’s family. The Fujikawa’s graciously shared Gyo’s family stories, photos, and archived materials, without which this book would not have existed. 

Gyo’s story is of a daughter of immigrants whose parents were looking for a better life. Her story is of a passioned artist who became a champion for racial diversity in children’s literature. And her story is also one of perservering through one of the darkest moments in American history. While living and working in New York, Gyo’s family was imprisoned and then sent to an internment camp following President FDR’s 1942 order to forcibly clear all Japanese residents from the West Coast.

During this terribly dark period, Gyo found solice in her artistry. I think it’s safe to say that this experience fueled her later pioneering fight for multiracial inclusion in the world of children’s literature.

Considering the subject matter, Author Kyo Maclear crafts a simple and intimate biography that young readers could comprehend:

Gyo was shocked to discover that anyone who looked Japanese or had a Japanese name was now suspected of being the enemy.

Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were ordered to leave their homes, their schools, their pets, their everything. 

You may have to be prepared to give kids a quick history lesson after reading this book. But it is undoubtedly a history lesson worth teaching.

Illustrator Julie Morstad wonderfully captures the essence of Gyo’s signature style. Using a combination of watercolor, gouache, and pencil crayon, Morstad creates equally soft and delicate images. 

The additional content of this book makes for a fantastic educational resource. It includes: 

  • A detailed timeline of Gyo’s life, with historical references, direct quotations, and family photos
  • An extensive note from the author and illustrator 
  • A selected biography of Gyo’s work
  • A source list for references 

Take-away message: After reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of the late, great John Lewis when he famously said: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Gyo Fujikawa once said, “Let’s not follow the old rules. Let’s make new ones.” She helped break the color barrier in the predominantly White publishing world. And she became an advocate for labor rights, often fighting for fair pay and refusing work if she was being undervalued. She would encourage other artists to do the same. Her story is the epitome of getting into necessary trouble when it’s for the betterment of society.

TAGS: female lead, notable POC, Asian, Japanese, hardcover

Watch a Read-Aloud of Gyo’s first authored and illustrated book, Babies, first published in 1963. 


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