The East-West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan


Isamu was a boy of the East and the West. Born in the United States to a Japanese father and Scotch-Irish American mother, Isamu grew up in Japan. From his earliest years he felt the tug of his biracial heritage, never quite fitting in or thinking he belonged. Pleasure came, however, from the natural world. Color, light, and shadow. Earth, wood, and stone. Working with these forms of nature, Isamu found a way to blend his cultural divide. It was an exploration that became the ...

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Isamu was a boy of the East and the West. Born in the United States to a Japanese father and Scotch-Irish American mother, Isamu grew up in Japan. From his earliest years he felt the tug of his biracial heritage, never quite fitting in or thinking he belonged. Pleasure came, however, from the natural world. Color, light, and shadow. Earth, wood, and stone. Working with these forms of nature, Isamu found a way to blend his cultural divide. It was an exploration that became the cornerstone and spirit of his lifelong creative journey.

With lyrical text and luminous artwork, Christy Hale tells the story of the boy who grew up to be the multifaceted artist Isamu Noguchi. Guided by his desire to enrich everyday life with art while bringing together Eastern and Western influences, Noguchi created a vast array of innovative sculptures, stage sets, furniture, and public spaces. The East-West House is a tribute to the artistic beginnings of this pioneering modern sculptor and designer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Illustrator Hale’s authorial debut is a serene account of Noguchi’s early life in Japan as the son of a Japanese poet and an American writer. Quiet earth tones and collages of handmade paper carry through the twin themes of contemplation and the inherent worth of handcraft. In the book’s most arresting passage, eight-year-old Noguchi helps design and build the house he and his mother will live in after his father leaves: “He supervised construction/ watched each detail with care.” The startling idea of allowing a young child to contribute materially to such a significant project is a bright spot in an occasionally grim tale. Ages 6–11. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Hale concisely and compassionately traces the roots of the art of world famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi back to his childhood experiences. Born to an American mother after his Japanese father had returned home, Noguchi has to adjust to life in a strange land when his mother is persuaded to join his father in Japan. Their situation there is complicated because his father has another family. They are shunned as foreigners, but Isamu eagerly gathers experiences of the natural world around him. Teased by his schoolmates, he finds pleasure in the molding of clay. At only eight years old, he designs and helps construct a house for his mother and himself, combining qualities of East and West, as he did later in his life and art. The text is set in four-line blocks, conveying a poetic sensibility. The double-page scenes are also spare, with a Japanese flavor, although often filled with details. Particularly moving is the snow scene of groups of Japanese "shunning" mother and son; also of interest is that of the young Noguchi supervising the carpenters as they build his house. There is clarity to each mixed media collage visual statement, always with a feeling of esthetic concern; this creative combination delivers absorbing biographic background. In addition to background notes and a pronunciation guide, Hale includes photographs and details of Noguchi's adult life and a list of sources. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Isamu Noguchi was a prolific and influential artist whose creative interests ranged beyond sculpture and into scenic and landscape design, architecture, furniture, and art education. This book uses spare writing and textured collage to depict his life as a boy of mixed Japanese and American heritage living in Japan. Hale includes the fact that his mother was abandoned by his father before Noguchi was even born and makes the case that his isolation and difference as a child contributed to his appreciation of the natural world, which in turn informed his work throughout his long career. The mixed-media collage illustrations reflect the blend of East and West that runs throughout the book—block printing, rice paper, and Japanese printed paper are integrated with Western-style drawings of faces and other details. Thoroughly documented and heavily reliant on primary sources, the book includes a lengthy afterword about Noguchi's adult life, complete with photographs of his family and his work. An original and thought-provoking addition to biography or art collections.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD
Kirkus Reviews
Born in the United States to an American mother and a Japanese father, Isamu (Japanese for "Mr. Courageous") traveled to his father's homeland when he was only two. There, he and his mother were decidedly unwelcome; they were gaijin-foreigners. When his mother bought a small promontory of land in Chigasaki, Japan, Isamu, a thoughtful and gifted eight-year-old planned and supervised the construction of a distinctive new family home, one that, like Isamu, incorporated both Eastern and Western architectural elements. During the building of the house, he learned many valuable skills and honed his singular sensibility-one that informed his later work in stone, wood, metals and delicate rice paper. Hale's striking illustrations and the book's elegant look are an homage to the Japanese landscape; they masterfully reflect the palette and imagery of Japanese paintings and design (lacey evergreens, blue-grey seas, pink-white cherry blossoms and more). The appealing backmatter offers an informed and warm recap of Noguchi's life and impact. A welcome entree to one artist's inspiration, aspiration and imagination. (Picture book/biography. 6-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781600603631
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/2/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,441,449
  • Age range: 7 years
  • Lexile: AD760L (what's this?)

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  • Posted February 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    Few who have seen a sculpture by venerated artist Isamu Noguchi have forgotten it. And, while art aficionados undoubtedly know much about his life, young readers may not have been introduced to Noguchi yet. By relating the story of his early years Christy Hale has made not only the man but also his work available to children.

    In 1901 Yonejiro Noguchi, a Japanese poet who had written two books of poetry in English, came to New York City. Seeking help for his rudimentary grasp of our language he hired Leonie Gilmour, an editor and teacher. The two eventually fell in love and Yone proposed to her. However, three years later he abruptly returned to Japan without Leonie who was expecting their child. A son was born to them.

    It was not long before Yone urged Leonie to come to Japan, and she relented only when she became concerned about growing anti-Japanese feelings in America and how that might affect her son. Upon their arrival in Japan the boy was given a name by his father - Isamu, Mr. Courageous.

    As it turned out Isamu would need courage as his father had married in Japan and had another family. Thus, Isamu and his mother had no home; they were unwelcome foreigners. At school Isamu was excluded, teased. A lonely young boy he found comfort in molding clay, creating shapes that he had observed as he and his mother explored Japan. Eventually Leonie bought a small parcel of land , and although only 8-years-old Isamu drew up plans for their home which would be both Eastern and Western in design. It was the beginning of an amazing career during which he would wed "ancient and modern, craft and technology, East and West."

    Hale thoughtfully provides a summary of Noguchi's life and achievements at the close of her story as well as a list of sources for further study of the artist.

    Highly recommended.

    - Gail Cooke

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