NON-FIC: Drawing From Memory

Title: Drawing From Memory
Author: Allen Say
Publication Date: September 1, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic Press
ISBN: 0545176867
ISBN: 978-0545176866
Format: Non-Fiction/Graphic Novel (hybrid)
Plot summary: Winner of many awards and honors (including the Sibert Informational Book Medal in 2012), Drawing From Memory is a part-memoir, part-graphic-novel narrative about Allen Say’s journey from a boy who loved to draw and was rejected by his father, to the renown artist he is today. The book details his relationships with his father, mother, grandmother, and his “spiritual father”/mentor Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist.
Audience: Ages 8 and up

  • The centerpiece of this book is without a doubt the beautiful paintings, original artwork, sketchbook drawings, and cartoons (by Say himself and some by Shinpei), and photographs…together they paint a picture of who Say is and the culture he grew up in.
  • Though the book focuses on the visual components, Say’s simple, matter-of-fact narrative of his childhood and teenage experiences in Japan is quiet and touching. He does a great job describing the complex relationship between him and Shinpei…a mixture of awe, reverence, and respect — Shinpei can be almost a godlike/untouchable but tender and fatherly at the same time. I was moved to tears by the last couple of sentences in the Author’s Note, when Shinpei’s daughter wrote that one of her father’s dying wishes was to work on a book with Say, “the treasure of his life”.
  • Middle schoolers will be able to relate to the many emotions/themes in this book: what it’s like to feel rejected, to be passionate about something others don’t understand, wanting to be independent but not really sure what it means, feeling frightened/lost in the world, etc.
  • His obvious passion for cartooning/comic books and art in general will inspire young artists or anyone that aspire to become great at something. Readers will be able to identify with his unrelenting zeal to achieve his dream.


  • Say’s story is so fascinating I wish there was more text.
  • The book is arranged almost as if it were a scrapbook, with lots of snapshots, captions, sketches/art, and comic strips. This makes it difficult to read aloud, but might still be a good book for teachers to share on a projector, when there is plenty of time to pore through the details.


  • As introduction to author study and a great companion book for his autobiographical novel, The Inn-Keeper’s Apprentice.
  • As part of discussions on diversity (Japanese culture), immigration, family relationships, separation
  • lesson plan on genre — especially mixed genres: What makes this a graphic novel? What makes this an informational/non-fiction text? What is a memoir?
  • Study of the drawing/artistic process — does one become famous overnight? What sort of training/sacrifices might one have to make? Does this kind of apprenticeship/training happen in the US? What other types of careers/talents can you think of that require such kind of training?
  • inspirational read for anyone with artistic ambitions, identifies with the emotions of being rejected (by a parent or society) because one is “different”, or who has undergone the immigrant experience, etc.


  • One of the most popular ones at our library is Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Artan anthology in which 23 of the most well-known artists/illustrators in children’s literature (such as Maurice Sendak, Rosemary Wells, and Eric Carle) share their journeys.
  • For kids interested in reading more biographies, they can try titles from the Time for Kids Biographies series.
  • Another illustrated memoir of a highly-acclaimed writer/illustrator is Ed Young’s The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China. It’s a look into Young’s childhood in China and his path to becoming the celebrated artist he is today.
  • For kids interested in writers/artists and their journeys, check out Angela Wenzel’s 13 Artists Children Should Know, or titles from the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series (e.g. Van Gogh, Picasso).

Awards & Best Books (from CLCD):


  • Lexile Measure 560 (from CLCD)
  • Allen Say video interview with Reading Rockets, in which he mentions Drawing from Memory and provides more insights into his childhood and path to where he is today

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