April 2nd is National Children's Book Day — a day to celebrate the thousands of memorable books that have shaped each of our earliest introductions to literacy. Think about the books that you were first introduced to in your youth — what do you recall most -— the characters? -— the imagery? —- the magic of a story unfolding? These foundational volumes form lasting bonds with the written word for their readers and establish lasting impressions about ourselves, others, and the world around us.
One of the more impactful, yet unsung, children's authors and illustrators is Gyo Fujikawa. After studying at Chouinard Art Institute, Gyo got her start at the Disney Studios, working as a promotional artist on the early consumer product items centered around Walt Disney's musical masterpiece Fantasia. From fabrics to figurines, programs to pottery, Gyo's designs brought Disney's animation to life, and into consumer's homes.
With the outbreak of World War II, Walt relocated Gyo to New York City to protect her from being sent into a relocation camp. All of her family were removed from California to a work camp in Alabama during the course of the war, yet Gyo was able to continue living and working in New York. Walt made a point of checking in on her whenever he was back East, and looked-in to help with her family, if needed.
Following the war, Gyo stepped out on her own and began a prolific career as a children's book illustrator and author. Illustrating and writing over 50 books created for children, Gyo's work is regularly in print, been translated into 17 languages, and published within 22 countries.
A true trailblazer, Gyo became one of the first children's book illustrators to receive royalties for her work — forever changing the industry for artists. Additionally, Gyo fought for, and succeeded with incorporating multi-national children and subjects within her illustrations. As the earliest mainstream book illustrator to reflect many races of children playing together, Gyo's efforts forever changed the world of publishing and continue to influence generations of children today.
Beyond her groundbreaking publishing efforts, Gyo completed numerous freelance projects with various advertising clients including Eskimo Pie, the Upjohn company, and Beech-Nut baby foods. She also designed a number of special edition stamps for the United States Post Office and was a lifelong member of the Society of Illustrators.
"In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind - will this picture capture a child's imagination?" A true trailblazer Gyo's artistry introduced generations of children to the magic of books and reading, noting: "I am ever so grateful to small readers who find 'something' in any book of mine."