Tag Archives: children’s books

Gyo Fujikawa: Unsung Artist of Cheerful Children’s Books

Debbie says:

Laurie and I are trying to keep this blog relatively cheerful. We’re not in denial; we just know how rough things are, and we want to provide some distraction.

And it’s almost the end of Women’s History Month, so it’s time anyway to dive into a byway of women’s history. Neither of us had ever heard of Gyo Fujikawa before we found this article by Sarah Larson.

Fujikawa was born in Berkeley, California, in 1908, to … Japanese immigrants and grape-farm workers. … In the early twenties, the Fujikawas moved to Terminal Island, a fishing village near San Pedro, populated with many first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans. At mostly white schools on the mainland, Fujikawa struggled to fit in—late in life, she said that hers wasn’t “a particularly marvelous childhood”—but she excelled at art, and a high-school teacher helped her apply for a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), where she thrived. After a year travelling in Japan, she returned to Los Angeles, where, in 1939, she was hired by Walt Disney Studios. She designed promotional materials for “Fantasia,” and in a piece in Glamour, published in the early nineteen-forties and titled “Girls at Work for Disney,” a caption identifies her as “Gyo, a Japanese artist.”

Larson goes on to talk about how Fujikawa was not seen as American. In the 1940s, she was working for Disney and was protected, but her parents were sent to internment camps, and she visited them there, which she found appropriately heartbreaking.

She took both political and economic radical positions regarding her career:

In 1957, she was commissioned to illustrate a new edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” She was paid a flat fee, as was standard; the book was a hit; and she turned down future work until the company agreed to pay her royalties. It did, and her career flourished, as did her creativity. She illustrated “The Night Before Christmas” (1961) and, in 1963, her first original book, “Babies.” She told the publisher that she wanted to show “an international set of babies—little black babies, Asian babies, all kinds of babies.” The publisher was reluctant, fearing that images of black babies would impair sales in the South. Fujikawa stood firm, “Babies” was published as she wanted, and the book became a best-seller.

And, as Sarah Larson points out in her article, the picture at the top of the blog has a sign saying “Members Only,” where most treehouses of the time were pictured as saying “No Girls Allowed.”



Many prominent illustrators still don’t get royalties today, and of course many women don’t advocate for our own economic advancement; Fujikawa blazed a trail I wish more people would follow. Similarly, emphasizing the importance of multiracial images in children’s books is popular now in much or even most of picture-book publishing, but in the late 1950s and early 1960s these books must have been outliers on the shelves of books about white children–and the fact that they sold so well is a testament not only to her skill but also to people’s hunger and need to see themselves.

Fujikawa died in 1998, and was remembered in obituaries at the time, but is largely forgotten now. At a moment when you need it, take a few minutes to browse the pictures of her work on Google images: they’ll likely bring you a smile or three.

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We Few, We Happy Few…

Lynne Murray says:

I was recently discussing with a friend I’ve known for 40 years what it is that makes life worth living. In my case, I listed few of the usual things that people rely on at my time of life. I could say with absolute certainty that knowing what I want to do, doing what I want to do makes me happy. Joining in with people I admire to help people learn to respect and accept themselves and their bodies as they are makes me happy. Even though it’s an all-volunteer, loosely organized, occasionally cranky group, I enjoy an affectionate sense of community based on shared goals–working with each other to promote a positive view of our bodies and ourselves.

Every one of us shares the frustration of watching the diet industry continue to expand to its most recent total of $60.9 billion per year. Yet still we stand to tell truth to power even when it seems like there’s little chance of succeeding. And we do succeed–one person at a time.

The small band of sisters and brothers working for sanity around body issues are better connected now, communicate more quickly using every tool the Internet has to offer, and mobilize with such efficiency that the mass media is more often starting to listen.

One case in point is the response to a potentially damaging children’s book months before its publication date (it’s scheduled for October 2011).

Associated Press describes the reaction to this book as a “flash mob.”

[W]hat’s the deal with all the attention for a not-yet-published rhyming picture book about an obese, unhappy 14-year-old named Maggie?

The title, for starters: “Maggie Goes on a Diet.”

For seconds, like-wildfire circulation of a blurb describing how the bullied girl is transformed through time, exercise and hard work into a popular, confident and average size soccer star. And cover art showing her wistfully holding up a Cinderella dress as she stares at her imagined, much slimmer self in a full-length mirror.

And an inside page, the only one most people have seen, that shows her hunched over the fridge during a two-fisted eating binge.

Thirds? Real teenagers have long moved on from rhyming picture books and the reading level for Hawaii dad Paul Kramer’s amateurish, self-published effort is recommended on Amazon for kids ages 4 to 8.

The online mess for Kramer began recently with outraged commenters on Amazon, where pre-orders haven’t propelled Maggie anywhere near the top of the rankings. There’s now a “savemaggie” hashtag on Twitter, a “Say No to Maggie Goes on a Diet” Facebook page, calls for a boycott and demands that Amazon and Barnes & Noble pull the book.

The outcry on Amazon, Facebook and Twitter was accompanied by heartfelt blog posts such as Ragen’s on Dances with Fat:

Teaching six year olds that dieting is the way to like yourself and become popular? At first I felt sure that it had to be some kind of (really bad) joke. I did not think it possible that anybody would actually write a diet book targeted at first graders. Nobody could possibly be that stupid/cruel/desperate for a quick buck, right?

Wrong. Paul Michael Kramer is. Sir, may I just say that this is sheer jackassery.

And Maggie might go on a diet, but Ragen is going on a rant:

He made sure that the book is “written in rhyme [so it’s] easy to read and fun to learn at the same time”. And thank god for that, because I would sure hate for kids to have to struggle to learn to hate their bodies. That’s definitely the kind of message that we want to be easy to understand and implement. I think he’s going to have trouble with the sequel though, because not that many things rhyme with “treatment for anorexia.”

I was delighted to see the creativity behind some of the responses, such as this one by Michelle May, M.D.

The description from the author’s website for Maggie Goes on a Diet, a children’s book (for ages 6 and up) slated for publication in October 2011 reads:

“Maggie has so much potential that has been hiding under her extra weight. This inspiring story about a 14 year old who goes on a diet and is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal sized teen who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.”

Inspired by the above, click here to enjoy Michelle Goes on a Diet…that lasted 20 years.

Then there were some literally graphic alternate creations envisioning an empowered Maggie from Brian Stuart at Red3Blog:The imagery of the cover really struck me for how tactless it is. It reinforces so many notions of there being thin people just waiting to come out of our fat bodies, a cliché which mostly serves to dehumanize fat people. We aren’t actual people, just something covering up thin people. While a lot of mainstream critics were blandly attacking the book for not promoting fat stigma the right way, I kind of kept thinking to what happens after the book.

See, most fat people have dieted and lost weight in their lives. Maggie’s story is one I’ve heard time and time again in fat accepting communities. Growing up fat and getting teased. Finally being able to maintain a low weight for some brief period of time before the inevitable swing of weight cycling brings their size up higher than it was to start. Indeed, its a cycle most fat people experience over and over. Maggie’s story rings true to many fat people. Its just not the whole story.

So, as I had been dabling with Tumblr, I saw an opportunity for an art project and several weeks ago started posting my own book covers for sequels to Maggie’s first story. Starting with “Maggie Gains Back the Weight and Learns to Accept Her Body”:

A more thoughtful response to the situation of being a fat kid comes from an actual six-year-old, LaNiyah Bailey, who also wrote a book. It’s called Not Fat Because I Wannabe and it’s about her own experiences being teased by other children. The book has found an appreciative audience. Ironically her book has a more mature view of the situation than Maggie Goes on a Diet.

“[It]’s done so well that the Chicago schoolgirl, who has a hormonal condition which affects her weight, has legions of fans on her website and has even appeared on national television.”

I was very encouraged to see so many resourceful people responding to negative situations in positive, creative ways.

The quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V which I used as a title, is how the king rallies his troops before the Battle of Agincourt, where a seriously outnumbered English army defeated a French army on its home ground.

Historians argue about the actual numbers at Agincourt, possibly 6,000 English versus 30,000 French. No matter how bad their odds are, ours are much worse–certainly the number of fat activists is in the thousands versus the millions of dedicated dieters and people who believe in the worth of dieting despite any evidence to the contrary.

And yet I love it when we imitate the action of the tiger–once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!