Review of A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi

A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi
by James Yang; illus. by the author
Primary    Viking    40 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-593-20344-6    $17.99

“If you are a boy named Isamu,” begins this invented vignette of the childhood of artist Isamu Noguchi, “at the market with your mother, it can be a crowded and noisy place.” The text continues in second person, inviting readers to imagine themselves in the place of this quiet boy in early-twentieth-century Japan. The story follows him as he wanders away from the market, through a forest, and onto a beach. As he walks, he wonders about the shapes and textures of rocks, leaves, and bamboo. He imagines faces for the rocks, thinks about how wind carries the grass he tosses away, and wonders about paper lanterns, “how light can feel so welcoming.” All these objects will become artistic material for the adult Noguchi as he creates landscape art and paper sculptures. Yang’s text meets child readers on their own level, framing the natural world as a source of curiosity and delight. His digital illustrations feel warm and organic. Edges are softened and shapes are emphasized, as the pictorial lens zooms in and out to focus on a leaf or portray the grand scale of a seaside cliff. The book works as both an introduction to a fascinating artist and a tribute to the quiet joys of the natural world. An appended note provides more information about Noguchi’s career and the author’s inspiration for this picture book: “This story is how I imagine Isamu Noguchi explored nature, because as some children know, alone time can be the most special time of all.”

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Rachael Stein
K Rachael Stein

K Rachael Stein is the digital resources analyst at Southern Maryland Regional Library. She blogs at

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