Allen Say's Drawing from Memory, though, is a particular standout, and particularly unusual: an autobiographical memoir in the form of a picture book.
Say is a revered veteran children's book author, responsible for dozens of charming and always very beautiful picture books whose art bears the influence of his Japanese origins; several have become family favorites in recent years. In Drawing from Memory, he turns his immense talent upon his own life—and specifically on his road to his lifelong career as a cartoonist, artist, and author.
It's a tale with some familiar tropes—aspiring artist is told by his father that art is not a suitable profession, then pursues it anyway thanks to a mentor/substitute-father figure. But the specifics are powerful. (For instance: Say's parents and grandparents sent him to Tokyo to live by himself at age 13 so that he could attend a prestigious school there, with predictable and not-so-predictable effects on his relationship with them, and particularly with his mother.)
And the author's means of conveying his story is breathtaking: He expertly blends words, real family and historical photographs, and his own illustrations of memories of places, people, and situations (along with wistful and occasionally heartbreaking confessions of lapses in that memory, as when he cannot recall the name of a favorite schoolteacher). The resulting combination of media is more or less unique, and makes the already personal tale Say is telling almost impossibly so. You feel at times as if you're right there alongside the author as he journeys through his life.
This is not, clearly, your typical picture-book fare, especially as Say's childhood coincided with World War II, and as such, the intended audience is certainly a little older than one expects a book of this size and shape to be. But his treatment, while it doesn't shy away from the facts of his life and the history going on during it, is never overly grim, and our six-year-old (who's starting to show some interest in cartooning himself) was fascinated by the true story. Kids older than that, particularly if they have any interest in drawing and/or storytelling themselves, will be rapt, I think. As will most adults with such interests—or who have childhoods of their own to remember.
[UPDATE: Though Amazon seems to say you can purchase this book now, I've been told by the publisher that it's not officially out till October, so if you're having problems picking it up immediately, my apologies! (You should at least be able to preorder till then, though, I should think.) I'll update further with any new information.]
[Cover image courtesy of Scholastic]