The Inker's Shadow

illus. by Allen Say. 80p. photos. Scholastic. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545437769.
Gr 5 Up—In this follow-up to the autobiographical Drawing from Memory (Scholastic, 2011), 15-year-old Japanese immigrant Allen is sent by his father to a California military academy soon after World War II to improve his English and to make something of himself. A variety of adults and a few peers help him move toward his goal of establishing himself as an artist but are characterized mostly by the inconstant way they slip in and out of his life. His most regular companion is his imaginary alter ego, the cartoon boy Kyusuke, whose creator, Say's mentor Noro Shinpei, modeled after Say. The storytelling is light and episodic, which helps underscore the veracity of the narrative but prevents the action from building in any dramatic fashion. The book features numerous still ink and watercolor re-creations of the people and places from this era in Say's development; most are realistic but also feature the sketchbook cartoon style Say employed at the time, particularly when he channels Kyusuke. However, use of actual sequential sequences are minimal, and readers' abilities to glean details from landscapes, the nuances of character portraits, and the choice of medium or style will determine how much emotional context the illustrations add to the narrative.
VERDICT A deceptively simple story, given depth by technically excellent illustrations that require a sophisticated level of visual and cultural literacy to successfully interpret.—Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH
An engaging and inspiring portrait of a young artist's determination to follow his dream. Those who are familiar with Drawing from Memory will be happy to pick up with Allen Say as a fifteen-year-old and learn about the first few years after he moved from Japan to the United States. Also an immigrant and coming-of-age narrative, the book stands well on its own and will resonate with a wide range of readers. Say's teenage years were unique and specific to the time period and place, but his trials, such as learning a new language, facing prejudice, and having a difficult relationship with his father, are universal. Serves as a testament to the positive influence a teacher or other invested adult can have in a young person's life. In Say's case, a kind high school principal changed the direction of his experience in the United States: "Yesterday I thought I was going to jail or to sleep in an orange grove. Today I leap four years in my schooling, and maybe have a job! One kind American changed my world." (Say's high school art teacher was also hugely supportive and encouraging; in his author's note, Say says, "I still wonder what my life would have been without [Mr. Nelson Price and Mrs. Laura Swope]. Would I be an artist today?") The striking images-a combination of paintings, sketches, and cartoons-immerse readers in Say's world. Throughout, Kyusuke (a popular Japanese-comic character, which Say's Japanese mentor based on him) appears as Say's "cartoon double," acting as a foil and providing levity: "That's it! Be like Kyusuke! Life's an adventure!"
, Nov 01, 2015

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