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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #10 (March 6, 2007), page 15.

What itís like to be an artist

Emmaís Rug
By Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin, 1996
Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95

By Josephine Bridges

Some children have special blankets; Emma has a rug. "She lay on it and sat on it and she was happy. When she began to walk, she carried it everywhere she went, but never stepped on it. Now she only stared at it, sitting perfectly still, for long periods of time." When asked what she sees in "that fuzzy thing," Emma doesnít answer. But soon she begins to draw: first a warthog, then a pangolin, next a tapir. As she begins to win art competitions, other children ask where she gets her ideas. "I just copy," she says, but no one believes her.

Precocious, eccentric, Emma is also deeply sensitive. The day after she wins a citywide art competition, her mother washes her rug. The next day the girl stops drawing altogether. "Days went by. Emma didnít speak, and soon the children ignored her. After a while, it was as if she werenít there anymore." Then she throws all her pencils, paints, and brushes, her drawings and paintings, and her "prizes and plaques and trophies and medals" in the trash, along with her rug. "Kid stuff," she declares. Will this gifted young artist ever draw again?

Emma is an extraordinary child, and the glimpse that Allen Say gives us into her inner world lights up our own. Not only with carefully chosen words, but with gorgeous watercolors ó especially of Emmaís paintings of cats, fish, birds, bridges, buildings, and even the occasional abstract ó he shows us, in addition to telling us, a little about what itís like to be an artist. And it isnít always easy.

It isnít easy to tackle the elusive topic of inspiration either. Painter and author Allen Say probably knows as much about it as anybody does, and he presents Emmaís inspiration as beyond ordinary understanding. The six-year-old girl doesnít think much about it; she acts on it, at least until it disappears. And then what?

As long as Allen Sayís inspiration doesnít disappear ó and it shows no sign of doing so ó children and adults alike can experience the world in a new way through his magical books. There are no wizards or fairies here, but there may be something even more astonishing, everywhere you look.


To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books