LS 5653 Module 5-Allen Say Book

Say, Allen. Drawing from Memory. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011. ISBN 9780545176866

Drawing from Memory is an autobiographical tale about Say’s childhood in Japan. However, what started his art career was actually not art, but reading. Say tells the reader that, because his mother worried about him drowning as a young child, she taught him how to read. Say read comics to the other children in the village. From there, he began drawing…on everything. Say goes on to face a disapproving father and grandmother as well as the pressure to get into one of the private schools in Tokyo. Ironically, after getting into the school (and getting an apartment through an agreement with his mother and grandmother if he got into the school) it is something small that pushes his art career further.  He reads the newspaper.

Reading Drawing from Memory is more like looking at a scrapbook than reading a standard picture book. Some pages have detailed drawings to go with the text; others have sketches, photographs, or prints of cartoons. Several have a mixture of these elements (hence the scrapbook comparison). The text itself is easy to follow, but it needs the images to function. Despite the variety of techniques, for the most part you can recognize the people in both the photographs and the sketches or illustrations (except the ones where Tokida takes off his glasses). In addition, the characters have the same skin tone and dark hair, the variety comes in haircut, dress, and facial expression.

While Drawing from Memory always makes forward motion, it isn’t in the direct fashion of most books. Part of this is the writing style and the need to read all of the little notes that go with each photo, sketch, or image, and part of it is the fact that while some pages have a lot of text, others have panels like a comic book.

The author’s note at the end of the book tells how the story between Say and his sensei ends. While this doesn’t fill in the rest of Say’s life, it does feel like it completes the book. The reader knew from early on that Noro Shinpei was important to Say, so it is nice to see that part of his life through to its completion.

This book would work well for several different classes. For history, it could be used to look at Japan during American occupation and the student strikes. For art classes, it shows not only a variety of styles, but that art doesn’t have to start from some big inspirational moment. It could be looking at the city and wanting to paint red roofs. It can be used in English classes to show how what some people may think of as boring and not story worthy (namely their life which never seems to have enough excitement) actually can make an interesting story. Like art doesn’t need some mythical muse to hit the artist with inspiration, stories don’t need large fight scenes or large amounts of drama. They need characters that the reader can invest themselves in.


Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal-2012 (Honor Book)
School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books-2012 (Nominee)


Booklist—“The scrapbook format features photographs, many of them dim with age; sketchbook drawings; and unordered, comic-book-style panels that float around wide swathes of text and unboxed captions, and the overall effect is sometimes disjointed. Still, as a portrait of a young artist, this is a powerful title that is both culturally and personally resonant.”

Kirkus—“Nothing—not political unrest, not U.S. occupation, not paternal disapproval—derails his singular goal of becoming a cartoonist. Shinpei’s original comics are reproduced here, harmonizing with Say’s own art from that time and the graphic-novel–style panels, drawings and paintings created for this book. Aesthetically superb; this will fascinate comics readers and budding artists while creating new Say fans.”

Chipman, Ian. Booklist. August 2011. (Vol. 10, No. 22). Accessed via CLCD at

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. July 2011. (Vol. 79, No. 14). Accessed via CLCD at


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