It Began with a Page: Author Kyo Maclear's 2020 BGHB Nonfiction Honor Speech

    

A few years ago, Julie Morstad and I met with the family of Gyo Fujikawa in Los Angeles. I had an uncanny sense, as we sat with them over lunch, that Gyo was there among us, threading her way into our conversation.

Why did we want to tell her story? She was a trailblazer, who surmounted countless barriers to becoming an artist, and championed the notion of “diversity.” Hers was a story that was bigger than one person. It was a tale of many immigrants, a tale of war and injustice, a story shaped by the history that poured through her.

Nowadays we’d call her “brave” and “tenacious,” but I wondered what it felt like at the time. I wanted to know what it was like to be Gyo. I wanted to steep myself in her life and counter the silence of the archive; the lopsided legacy of an artist whose much-loved books still circulate widely while their creator remained virtually unknown. The available information about Gyo was spare, incomplete, conjectural. We wanted to help grow her legacy, to thank her.

Julie and I decided early on that we wanted the structural elements of our book to echo the way Gyo invited children who were placed at the outer margins of history onto the main stage of children’s literature. As kids read through the book, we want them to feel what it’s like to tumble into belonging, what it means to begin with a page and tell your own untold story.

We also wanted them to feel Gyo’s respect for children. Gyo was an enthusiastic celebrator of childhood emotion. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, or wished for something really hard, or dropped to one knee to announce your opinions in a yell-y voice — then there is a place for you in the world of Gyo. Her books are filled with angelic and flawed, innocent and mischievous kids. It’s hard to overstate how subversive this is, how revolutionary to tell a child they don’t have to “behave” in order to “earn” a place in our shared world.

As you can tell, there were so many things that drew me to Gyo’s story, but maybe the real, heart-stamped answer is love. I read her books without knowing who she was when I was a child. Reading them as an adult took me back to how I felt as a kid, when you’re newly infatuated with literature, newly surprised by its capacity to house you, to nestle into you as you nestle into it. Her books were precious, and maybe a little sacred, because they were my first experience of a book loving me back.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2020 BGHB Nonfiction winners.]

I want to thank the Fujikawa family and my collaborator and close friend, Julie Morstad. Thank you to our brilliant editors Jill Davis and Tara Walker, the generous teams at HarperCollins and Tundra Books, and my beautiful agent Jackie Kaiser. Thank you readers, teachers, and librarians for nurturing this delicate book ecology we share.

Finally, I want to thank The Boston Globe and The Horn Book for honoring our book but also Gyo’s special vision. We hope that in this era of walls and borders, she continues to inspire us to keep grasping at what is blazingly radical and humane and truly welcoming.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read illustrator Julie Morstad's BGHB speech here. For more on the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB20. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Kyo Maclear.

Kyo Maclear

Kyo Maclear is the author of the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor book It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way.

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