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  • Writer's pictureLoren Javier

REVIEW: Paper Son

Recently, I did a profile for Tyrus Wong as part of our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration. While I knew about Wong's work on Bambi, it was actually nice to research him and learn more about him. I recently learned that a children's book was published last year dedicated to the celebrated artist. The book is entitled Paper Son: The inspiring story of Tyrus Wong, immigrant and artist.

Author Julie Leung was inspired to write this book after reading about Wong in an obituary. She wrote in her notes at the end, "Growing up the only child of immigrants, I had very few picture books available to me about the accomplishments of fellow Chinese-Americans - much less artists. I wanted to change that for future generations."

I've always felt the same way about Filipino Americans growing up, so I wanted to share this book with you all.

Leung does a wonderful job in telling Tyrus Wong's story. She spends a lot of time in his early life, much of which I did not know even doing research on him. He was born Wong Geng Yeo and immigrated to the United States when he was nine years old with his father. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, his father forged new papers for them as Look Git and Look Tai Yow for his son.

He spent weeks on Angel Island separated from his father before he was allowed to leave. They moved to Sacramento where a teacher changed his name to Tyrus. Leung writes about his experience being sent to Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. While he learned Western techniques, "He also studied artwork from China's Song dynasty, when watercolors and simple lines communicated much by showing little. The lushness of a flower could be felt with gradual increases of color. And mountains could loom in the distance with a few jagged lines."

Eventually, Wong began working at Disney as an inbetweener. He saw an opportunity with Bambi and began painting all kinds of landscape in his trademark style. According to the book, "The result was breathtaking. Walt Disney loved it. He instructed his animators to follow Tyrus's style."

The illustrations were provided by former Pixar artist Chris Sasaki who's style was influenced by Wong himself. The artwork is just beautiful and you can definitely tell his influence with the whimsical use of color and beautiful watercolor use. He was the perfect artist for this project.

For all of you who are interested in Disney artists or Chinese American artists (or both), this is a book for you. You will feel a great respect for Tyrus Wong, what he went through in his life and how he lived his life.

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