May is Asian Pacific Heritage month here in the United States. I thought it a good time to feature an outstanding American Children’s book author and illustrator of Asian descent. Gyo Fujikawa was a trailblazer in many regards; she broke down the barriers of what I refer to as the “double majors”, she was female and also a minority yet made it to the top of her career as a prolific children’s book author and illustrator.
Gyo Fujikawa was born in 1908 in Berkeley, California to Japanese parents. She was named after a male Chinese emperor her dad idolized. She was among the first illustrators to be paid royalties from published work rather than a flat fee that was the custom then. Margaret Wise Brown, the late bestselling author of Goodnight Moon fought for this cause.
She studied art in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and was creatively involved in the Disney animated movie; Fantasia and went on to illustrate children’s books for Disney. Gyo later worked for the big advertising firms in New York City before being recruited to write and illustrate more children’s books by a big publishing house in New York City.
Gyo was briefly engaged at age nineteen but never married and had no children. She nonetheless had the special gift of knowing how kids thought and felt and knew how to convey little kids thought process and feelings in her writings and illustrations. Gyo and Jack Ezra Keats were one of the first children’s book authors to feature multiracial characters in their books. Her books were one of the first mainstream multicultural books for children.
She was a very private person so much so that there are hardly any pictures of her in print. Gyo Fujikawa died in Manhattan, New York in 1998 at the age of 90.