Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Allen Say was once a comic book character. At the time, he was a teenager living in Tokyo, dreaming of becoming a cartoonist and working with his sensei (teacher, or master) Noro Shinpei, one of the foremost cartoonists in Japan. Early in their work together, Sensei included Say and fellow student Tokida in one of his comic strips.

Say had been hooked on comics ever since he was a little boy living on the seashore of Yokohama, Japan, near a fishing village. As a ploy to keep Allen home and away from the danger of the sea, his mother taught him to read when he was very young. He knew early on that he wanted to be a cartoonist when he grew up. “When I was drawing, I was happy,” he recalls. “I didn’t need toys or friends or parents.” But his parents weren’t happy; they wanted him to be respectable, not a lazy, scruffy artist.

Say was only 12 years old when his grandmother arranged a one-room apartment for him in the city. There, he met Tokida, a young artist already working with Sensei. “Why do you want to be a cartoonist?” the master asked. “I don’t know . . . drawing is all I want to do, sir,” Say replied.

Drawing from Memory—related in prose, photographs, early black-and-white drawings, and Say’s own watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations—is an engaging portrait of how the popular author-illustrator came to be who he is today. This attractive memoir is also a celebration of art and, more broadly, all of those who follow a dream and the teachers along the way who help make such dreams come true.

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