James Yang: A Boy Named Isamu

By Peggy Roalf   Friday June 25, 2021

With A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi, author and illustrator James Yang has created a window on to what it is to be an artist. In minimalistically rendered spreads that capture the essence of place, with equally minimalistic text, he introduces children to experiences we all share, such as walking on a beach, navigating a crowded outdoor market, exploring a dense forest. Narrated in the second person, Yang invites children to imagine themselves as Isamu, and to ask his questions about the natural world to discover a different way of experiencing familiar places.

Wandering past a group of children who play loudly, Isamu asks these questions: “Why does cloth feel soft? Who made the path with stone?... How can light feel so welcoming?” If you are Isamu, stones are the most special of all. "How can they be so heavy? Would they float if they had no weight?" In the forest, he sees leaves, grass, and more stones, then finds his way to the quiet rumble of the ocean. At the beach he says, "Your stick makes a shhhhhh in the sand. Later on, his mother calls, “Isamu! There you are!”, reaching for an embrace. When she asks about his day, “You think about how you were alone but not lonely.”"

The fact that the great sculptor is not mentioned until the end of Yang’s story makes for an uncomplicated view of the kind of sensibilities shared by artists, in ways that most children can relate to. The story closes with an author’s note about Noguchi, who was bi-racial and ostracized both in this father’s country, Japan and in his mother’s country, America. He says that Noguchi believed that “when an artist stopped being a child, he would stop being an artist.” 

A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi, Viking Books for Young Readers, Ages 3–7, in stores June 15. 

Save the date: Saturday, July 10, 10:30am-11:30 am, Art for Kids and Families at the Noguchi Museum and Sculpture Garden. Live and on Zoom. Author and illustrator James Yang will read from his new children’s book A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi.  Free Info/Registration

From the website: After the reading we’ll spend time talking about Isamu’s journey exploring the world around him, and then we’ll make art together. This live program is for families with children ages 3–7 years old. Adults are encouraged to make art with us and join in the conversations, but their participation is optional. We do recommend that a caregiver is present to engage with younger children.

Materials to bring to class: many papers (newspaper, magazines, xerox paper, etc.) and tape.

All registrants will be sent a link to participate through Zoom. Participants should have access to a computer, smart phone, or tablet with a microphone and internet access.

Winner of the Theordor Seuss Geisel Award in 2020 for Stop! Bot!, James Yang's prize-winning work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including Graphis, Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He is the author/illustrator of Stop! Bot!, Bus! Stop!, Joey and Jet, Joey and Jet in Space, and Puzzlehead. The designer of "Clockman," a sculpture on display at the National Museum of American History, Mr. Yang and his wife live in New York City.