Paper son The inspiring story of Tyrus Wong, immigrant and artist

Julie Leung

Book - 2019

"An inspiring picture-book biography of animator Tyrus Wong, the Chinese American immigrant responsible for bringing Disney's Bambi to life. Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo. He traveled across a vast ocean from China to America with only a suitcase and a few papers. Not papers for drawing--which he loved to do--but immigration papers to start a new life. Once in America, Tyrus seized every opportunity to make art, eventually enrolling at an art institute in Los Angeles. Working as a janitor at night, his mop twirled like a paintbrush in his hands. Eventually, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime--and using sparse brushstrokes and soft watercolors, Tyrus created the iconic backgro...unds of Bambi."

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Picture books
New York : Schwartz & Wade Books [2019]
Main Author
Julie Leung (author)
Other Authors
Chris (Illustrator) Sasaki (illustrator)
First edition
Physical Description
1 volume (unpaged) : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 24 x 29 cm
Ages 4-8.
K to Grade 3.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

When he was nine years old, Tyrus Wong became a Paper Son, using a false name and pretending to be another boy in order to immigrate with his father to the U.S., or Gold Mountain. After months alone on Angel Island being questioned by immigration authorities, Wong was finally reunited with his dad, taking up a tough life as the new kid in a place where he didn't know the language. He went on to art school while working nights as a janitor and eventually became the art director of Disney's Bambi, though he never received the credit he deserved. Leung's reverent, poetic prose captures the subject's lifelong love of art and his perseverance through adversity. Sasaki's lush renderings are reminiscent of the animator's iconic style, heavily influenced by his Chinese heritage. Young readers and aspiring artists will pore over the stunning digital art, which presents an ink-and-watercolor style. The entire collaboration highlights the many contributions immigrants have made to our country and its culture, making this a lovely work for all shelves, displays centering artists, units on immigration, or showcases during Asian American History Month. Notes from author and artist, in addition to photos of Wong and his family, add further context and value to this gorgeous picture-book biography about an unsung hero of animation and Chinese American history.--Shelley M. Diaz Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1919, a boy and his father emigrate from China to the United States. There, the child is separated from his parent and "taken to a wooden house filled with strangers... Days turned to weeks. This new land was not what he had expected." After he struggles to clear immigration with an assumed identity, the boy, eventually known as Tyrus Wong, makes his way as an artist, working his way through art school as a janitor before landing a job at Walt Disney Studios. His lush illustrations, influenced by the evocative spareness of Chinese art and calligraphy, became the signature look of Bambi, though Wong is credited "only as a background artist" for his contributions to the film. Sasaki's appealing illustrations, which blend midcentury stylization with classical Chinese art, complement Leung's sensitive and skillful telling of Wong's chillingly timely story. An endnote offers additional details about Wong's life and career. Ages 4--8. (Sept.)

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Review by School Library Journal Review

PreS-Gr 3--From humble origins as a nine-year-old Chinese immigrant with false papers, Tyrus Wong challenged adversity to become a professional artist. Celebrated as the man behind the design for Disney's Bambi, Wong worked for other film studios as well. Leung's smooth exposition emphasizes the difficulties facing young Wong Geng Yeo, who traveled in 1921 under the identity of Look Tai Yow, a merchant's son, in order to evade the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Days of practice on the long voyage allowed him to pass his immigration interview and be released to join his father, but only after an extended detention on Angel Island. Wong finished high school and art school, but continued to face discrimination as a Disney employee. Sasaki's digital illustrations portray him as the single non-white man among a group of Disney animators drawing the repetitive "in between" frames of movies. The art often reflects the style of Chinese watercolor and ink paintings. One notable spread shows the artist working as a janitor, swirling his mop trails to paint a running horse on a tile floor. Other images are stylized but recognizable and appropriate to the mood and the period. The helpful back matter includes author and illustrator notes and photos from the Wong family albums, including his immigration card. The endpapers feature the kites Wong designed and flew on the beach near his California home. VERDICT A well-told story that spotlights the too-often unrecognized talent and contributions of America's immigrants.--Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD

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Review by Horn Book Review

This picture-book biography focuses on two pivotal experiences in artist Tyrus Wong's life-his emigration from China to the United States at age nine of 1920, and his work as an animator at Disney Studios. Leung's well-paced text describes Wong's journey as a "paper son" (a child carrying forged immigration papers, following the restrictive Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). After he and his father settle in Sacramento, calligraphy lessons lead Wong to art school, where he learns to draw in a Western style but also continues to study Chinese art from the Song Dynasty. When he blends the two styles while working as an "in-betweener" at Disney, his ideas inspire (and he creates) the scenic design for the 1942 film Bambi. (However, he is credited only as a background artist, and was later fired during a workers' strike.) While it would have been nice to see an example or two of Wong's work, Sasaki's digital illustrations are striking and are particularly effective in scenes that juxtapose hard and soft images (for example, impressionist-inspired ocean waves and tree blossoms subtly decorating a ship's machinery). An arresting spread shows Wong working as his art school's janitor and using his mop as a virtual paintbrush, a trail of soft colors spreading across the floor. The back matter includes an illustrator's note, photos of Wong, and an author's note offering more detail about the artist's life (he died in 2016 at age 106!) as well as information about the Chinese Exclusion Act. Laura Koenig November/December 2019 p.114(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

As the boat sailed from China to America, Wong memorized the minutiae of another boy's life.In 1919, the Chinese Exclusion Act allowed only high-status immigrants into the U.S. So 9-year-old Wong became a "paper son," taking on the identity of a merchant's son. Luckily, Wong passed the grueling immigration interview. After art school, bored by the tedium of "in-betweener" work at Disney Studios, Wong saw his chance to prove himself when Walt Disney announced his next movie, Bambi. Drawing on Felix Salten's novel, his own personal experiences, and his training in both Eastern and Western artistic styles, Wong created lush, impressionistic landscapes inspiring the look of the entire movie. Unfortunately, Wong's work was largely unrecognized; however, he never stopped making art, exploring many media. Digital illustrations emphasize precise details and shape repetition, creating a geometric counterpoint to organic washes of color and loose, impressionistic backgrounds inspired by Wong's work on Bambi. The brief narrative moves swiftly, lingering on just two key moments: Wong's immigration and the making of Bambi. The author's note provides more information about the Chinese Exclusion Act, the proliferation of paper sons and daughters, and additional details about and photos of Wong. Unfortunately, neither text nor backmatter share contextual information about the reasons for immigration, benefits and sacrifices of immigration, or the racial prejudice Wong faced both personally and professionally.A visually engaging introduction to a little-known yet influential American artist (Picture book/biography. 7-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.