A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi by James Yang

A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi by James Yang. Viking, 2021. 9780593203446

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  In this elegant outing, James Yang imagines the childhood musings of Japanese-American sculptor and designer, Isamu Noguchi. The artist is depicted as a young, solitary boy who has wandered away from his mom for the day, studying and wondering about the world. We see him examining paper lanterns, birds, bamboo, and most important, stones (including a huge one with a human face): “alone but not lonely.” Yang describes the outing with sensorial language: the shhhh of a stick dragged in the sand, the rumble of the ocean. Foreshadowing his work, we see Isamu sitting in a large stone sculpted by the sea. The drawings are digital, but with their transparent pigments and images of nature, echo traditional Japanese woodblock prints. I especially loved how Isamu brings home souvenirs from his day (in soft, natural hues) that morph into vividly-colored, dynamic images as he falls asleep and dreams. Grey-blue endpapers feature shapes from Noguchi’s designs. An author’s note includes a bit of information about the artist, along with 2 photos: one with Noguchi as a child in 1909 and another of him with his sculpture Energy Void in 1971. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? It’s unlikely that children ages 4-8 will be familiar with Noguchi, so I was puzzled by the author’s decision not to include background information in the text or more images of his artwork. Although in the endnote, Yang tells us that he is imagining Noguchi’s childhood experiences and their impact on him as an artist, I thought this information would have been better placed in a prologue.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This would be a good activator for an art teacher who wants to introduce Noguchi to elementary school students. A school librarian could work with the teacher to provide background information and perhaps lead a virtual field trip through The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum website. This book will also be of interest to readers looking for picture books featuring Japanese and Japanese-American characters and themes.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture book

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 16, 2021

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