Say’s intriguing, introspective, and largely visual journey through his first sixteen years of life as a child and artist is decidedly readable and informative. This slender hybrid picture book contains numerous comic book essentials, water-coloured pen and ink illustrations, black and white drawings and sketches, and photographs, all of which bring the autobiographical text fully alive and vividly parade his artistic diversity and talents.
Say provides homage to his mentor Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist at the time, while explaining, through his memories, the process Say undergoes to become an artist himself. He also provides a small glimpse into the work of Shinpei and the comic book industry in Japan at the time.
The text itself, written in the past tense as befitting the memories alluded to in the title, offers a window into the man Say became, his family dynamics, and the history and culture of Japan during his youth. Due to the displeasure his family members had towards his choice of profession as an artist, Say becomes an early rebel, living by himself at the age of twelve, in order to follow his dreams. But his family responsibilities and relationships also result in him leaving his homeland at age sixteen for the United States. Say stops his story there but provides additional material about Shinpei’s family and career in the author’s note. The reader knows that Allen Say’s career path took him to the pinnacle because the publisher very clearly remarks that Say is a Caldecott Medal Winner on the cover and on the back cover. While this book illuminates the reverence Say had for his Sensei (teacher), it also reflects the respect the publisher has for Say’s body of work.