Book of the Week: Gyo Fujikawa’s Mother Goose

August 31, 2010

We have a few Mother Goose books at our house, and one of my favorites is this version by Gyo Fujikawa. This is an older volume that’s been reissued. The illustrations are familiar feeling and comforting (and totally old school cool), and I swear, it has twice as many poems as any other Mother Goose I’ve come across.

I love reading Mother Goose poems aloud. I like to think of all those mothers and fathers who have read or recited the familiar words to their own little ones — for decades and decades (even centuries?). Do your kids like Mother Goose poems?

Last time I posted about Gyo Fujikawa, there was some confusion about whether this famous illustrator was a man or a woman. Does anyone know for sure?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 meg duerksen August 31, 2010 at 3:34 pm

i had that book when i was little. :)


2 Meredith @ Lily Jane August 31, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I’m so glad you posted this because I’ve been looking for a good collection of nursery rhymes. It seems so many books either leave lines out or change the original story just a bit. Do you know if these the original poems? Or if they’ve been altered? I love the illustrations!


3 Jenny August 31, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Gyo is a woman of Japanese descent, but her name is a Chinese emperor’s. Here is her obit. I have her Fairy Tales book and loved it (and still do) when I was little. Her illustrations are absolutely beautiful.


4 Birgid Gellersen Park August 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Gyo Fujikawa (November 3, 1908– November 26, 1998) was an American illustrator and children’s book author. A prolific creator of more than 50 books for children, her work is regularly in reprint and has been translated into 17 languages and published in 22 countries. Her most popular books, Babies and Baby Animals, have sold over 1.7 million copies in the U.S.[1] Fujikawa is recognized for being the earliest mainstream illustrator of picture books to include children of many races in her work, before it was politically correct to do so.

Gyo Fujikawa was born in Berkeley, California, to Japanese parents, Hikozo and Yu Fujikawa. The masculine name, Gyo (pronounced “ghee-o”), is after a Chinese emperor her father admired.

Gyo Fujikawa received a scholarship to attended Chouinard Art Institute and was on the faculty of from 1933-39.[5][6] She worked for the Walt Disney Company in California as a promotional artist, before moving to New York in 1941. From 1943-51 she worked for pharmaceutical advertising agency William Douglas McAdams.

In 1951 Fujikawa became a full-time freelancer and about five years later was approached by juvenile editor Debra Dorfman at Grosset & Dunlap to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses”. This was her first published children’s book in 1957. Babies, the first book both written and illustrated by Fujikawa in 1963, was also one of the earliest children’s books to use multi-racial characters, a consistent feature across her body of work.

Fujikawa’s books have been reprinted for mass-market and published worldwide. Her most popular books, Babies, Baby Animals, A to Z Picture Book and Oh!, What A Busy Day!, unfailingly represent a happy, detailed version of childhood. Her joyous illustrations remain sweet and nostalgic, without ever becoming overly saccharine. Her paintings of children are recognizable for round happy faces, rosy cheeks and simple dot eyes. Discussing her respect for her audience, she said:

“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? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

Fujikawa died on November 26, 1998, in New York Hospital. Although she had been engaged at the age of 19, she never married.


5 Ron Fujikawa August 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I am one of Gyo’s nephews and am thrilled to see so much interest in her work more than a decade after her passing. Gyo was a trail-blazer in every sense of the word–she went to New York City to hone her craft when the rest of her family remained in Southern California, and she managed to forge a career of incomparable distinction that spanned more than four decades in an industry that wasn’t the most accommodating to single women (not to mention those of Japanese-American ancestry). Her genius as an illustrator is best exemplified by the sensitivity with which she captured small children and their interaction–even though she never had any children of her own.

I am actually just now finalizing an agreement with a NY publisher under which eight of her most popular works will be freshened up and distributed both in the United States and abroad. I’m not sure of the timing, but the
first three books should be available in bookstores and online within the next year. Our belief is that her illustrations are timeless, and we hope they will be as alluring to children of this generation as they were to us.


6 Erin August 31, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Ron, what great news! How cool to have you here as an official representative of Gyo’s.


7 Caryn September 1, 2010 at 8:31 am

Wow Ron! It’s awesome to hear from Gyo’s family. As an illustrator, graphic designer, and avid children’s book collector, your aunt is one of my favorite artists. I must admit I keep wishing for a website to celebrate her story and her work. It’s wonderful when you can read and know more about the illustrator behind the art. Any plans to have one created to coincide with the release of updated books?


8 Ron Fujikawa September 1, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I confess it’s not anything I’ve even thought about. While there is certainly some interest in Gyo’s life and career, I am doubtful whether there’s enough there to fill a website on a continuous basis. My sister, brother and I are the sole surviving members of her family, and our shared recollections and remembrances of Gyo wouldn’t provide enough “content” for those interested in her. I will check with her publisher, though, and see if they have plans to dedicate a portion of their website to Gyo’s work; if they do, I’ll let you and others checking this blog know by posting another comment.


9 Maria McClure August 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I was given “Fairy Tales and Fables” in 1972 and still have it. We know read from it to our girls and they love the illustrations. So nice to see this has been re-released. I will certainly buy it.

oh and… seems that Gyo Fujikawa was a woman. Not that it’s the most accurate source, but it’s the first response that came up.


10 Melissa August 31, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I had this book when I was little and still have it to share with my children. I had a bunch of Gyo Fujikawa’s books…my mom loved them. And yes, Gyo Fujikawa is a woman. I don’t have any sources, but that is what I always heard.


11 camilla August 31, 2010 at 4:21 pm

We love her books! I read them as a child and loved every picture. Now I read them to my children and love the pictures just as much now as I did then.


12 artfulife August 31, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Love her book! I still have the ones I grew up with. My brother & I read them so much that we wore the binding away. My father lovingly fixed them with black electrical tape. I still read them to my girls today. My absolute favorite was A to Z Picture Book. The illustrations are just wonderful.


13 CustomToyPortrait August 31, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Fujikawa’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” was artisticly the most important book of my childhood — I bought a new copy for my daughter, and removed pages to frame in her nursery from my original.


14 Leslie August 31, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I always thought it was a man! I still have 2 from when I was a child, “Come Follow Me” about Fairies and Goblins and Elves, and “A Child’s Book of Poems”. I’ve started reading them to my 4 year old, and he loves them. Thanks for all the info about the author. I never thought to look it up.


15 Sarah August 31, 2010 at 6:53 pm

We love Gyo Fujikawa at our house! My 17 month son is absolutely obsessed with “Oh, What a Busy Day” and “10 Little Babies”.


16 Kidlet's Dad August 31, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Based on the title I was hoping for more Samurai in the illustrations.
Right now we have Jet Li’s Hero on the DVD player with the volume down low and “Brahms at Bedtime” playing through the Squeezebox. My 2 month old has interesting preferences.


17 Trisha August 31, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Oh my favorite of hers is Babies. I LOVE it. My mom has a very very old and worn out copy. I want this book too now.


18 april's craft nest August 31, 2010 at 7:34 pm

i still have this book from when i was little! i am passing it down to our little guy!


19 vanessa @ silly eagle books August 31, 2010 at 8:11 pm

I love his illustrations. Haven’t seen this one before, though! Thanks for sharing.


20 sara August 31, 2010 at 8:12 pm

I’ve never had that particular book but when my kids were littler we had a couple of other GyoFujikawa books that I would read to them constantly… which were hand-me-downs from my mom. The name always stuck because since it was such fun to say, I would always begin the book saying: “Baby Animals. By Gyo Fujikawa.” Most books I never credited :)


21 Erin August 31, 2010 at 8:45 pm

After my baby was born, I checked out books at our local library, just anything that caught my eye. I was determined to read to my new (screaming-around-the-clock) baby. A Fujiwaka book got my attention because of its beautiful illustrations, and I ended up keeping the book for three times’ the normal checkout length (about two and-a-half months). It was all poems, but not the Mother Goose ones; I can’t think of the author, but I kept wanting to return to each page just to look at the illustrations.

Thanks for doing this segment; a professional wordsmith and book-lover from an early age, I nevertheless don’t have a lot of recent experience with children’s books. I use your reviews as reference when I want to check out a book, buy one as a gift, etc. What a fun part of having kids–another book journey.


22 bettijo @ PagingSupermom August 31, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I love how colorful this one is — seems like a lot of the Mother Goose books I find are mainly black and white. I have actually been looking for *the* Mother Goose to buy. Perhaps I’m going to have to put a copy of this one on my wish list.


23 lakshmi August 31, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I love the illustrations !


24 JeanneW September 1, 2010 at 1:13 am

Oh my goodness. I absolutely adored this book as a little child and would get lost in its illustrations for hours. Only a few weeks ago, my mother gave me my original copy so that I may read it to my own children. It was a happy surprise to see it again and another happy surprise to see it in your blog.

And thank you Ron Fujikawa for letting us know about your Aunt and her new releases. She was a trailblazer for Asian American women!


25 RLG September 1, 2010 at 8:26 am

Many years ago I put aside my Fujikawa books from childhood to save for my future children. No kids yet, but I look forward to sharing these wonderful books one day!


26 Parakh September 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm

It so funny that you mentioned this book….I grew up with this book — I remember studying all the illustrations so carefully. I wanted to have the books for my children and found out that my mother had given it away! (gasp!) I was so heart broken….
About a month ago I was browsing through the books at Marshalls of all places, and found a copy of it!!! So Happy!!!


27 Shauna September 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm

This is my very favorite Mother Goose Book. There is an illustration to go with every verse. The illustrations are delightful!
I still have our original, well-read, well-loved book and will now being ordering it for my first Grandchild due in 5 months.


28 Naomi September 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I’ve always loved the Mother Goose Book and the illustration is really amazing.
Not only my girl but I also love the poems. It’s a real treasure!


29 Heather September 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I am so excited about this! My all time favorite book as a child was “Let’s Grow a Garden” by Gyo Fujikawa and I can’t find a newer copy anywhere – seems to be out of print. The pictures are lovely and I would look at them for hours when I was a little girl. It was honestly one of the reasons I love gardening so much now as an adult. My youngest son Titus asks me to read it to him every night before bed, and it is SO worn out (loved to death). I’m hoping it is one of the 8 you are working on distributing Ron!


30 lesley September 3, 2010 at 12:31 am

oh what fun! i was actually just telling a friend of mine about gyo fujikawa, she hadn’t heard of her work before, and gyo’s books have always been some of my very favourites. i remember pouring over my ‘oh, what a busy day’ book for hours on end when i was little, finding new fun bits of illustration and rhymes to read. also, i never knew until just a couple months ago that gyo was a woman!
anyhow, i must pick up this mother goose for my kids, it’s one i never had, and i just love sharing these books with my littles, who also love gyo’s whimsical illustrations and words.


31 Rebecca Pena September 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I just this book to my son as I put him to sleep– I’m SO glad my mom saved my old copy of this book so I can share it with my kiddos! Hopefully my kids won’t add to the scribbles that I made in it– kind of cute to see my attempts at letters on the alphabet page! ;)


32 Amanda Gann September 7, 2010 at 9:43 am

Here’s an illustration of her that I found on a Google image search-


33 Louise Sloan September 10, 2010 at 9:13 am

Hi, I just found your blog through the interview and I am so glad! I work there, too, and just posted about making friends via mom blogs, where I mentioned the article you were interviewed in:
I always thought Gyo was a man, too, and am thrilled to find out more about her through your post! No one mentioned my favorite illustrated book by her: The Night Before Christmas. It was our family version growing up and I have bought it for my son. The illustrations are amazing. It’s still available:
So glad to have discovered your blog!


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