Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist

Schwartz & Wade/Random/. Sept. 2019. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524771874.
PreS-Gr 3–From humble origins as a nine-year-old Chinese immigrant with false papers, Tyrus Wong challenged adversity to become a professional artist. Celebrated as the man behind the design for Disney’s Bambi, Wong worked for other film studios as well. Leung’s smooth exposition emphasizes the difficulties facing young Wong Geng Yeo, who traveled in 1921 under the identity of Look Tai Yow, a merchant’s son, in order to evade the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Days of practice on the long voyage allowed him to pass his immigration interview and be released to join his father, but only after an extended detention on Angel Island. Wong finished high school and art school, but continued to face discrimination as a Disney employee. Sasaki’s digital illustrations portray him as the single non-white man among a group of Disney animators drawing the repetitive “in between” frames of movies. The art often reflects the style of Chinese watercolor and ink paintings. One notable spread shows the artist working as a janitor, swirling his mop trails to paint a running horse on a tile floor. Other images are stylized but recognizable and appropriate to the mood and the period. The helpful back matter includes author and illustrator notes and photos from the Wong family albums, including his immigration card. The endpapers feature the kites Wong designed and flew on the beach near his California home.
VERDICT A well-told story that spotlights the too-often unrecognized talent and contributions of America’s immigrants.

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