Painter of Polka Dots: Yayoi Kusama
In 2017, a character in a children’s book was twice more likely to be a rabbit than an Asian Pacific child.
And according to the CCBC out of the 3400 books they received in 2016, only 22% of the books were about people of color. Only 12% were actually written by people of color. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done to amplify marginalized voices and address this serious lack of diversity in the publishing industry.
For my senior honors art thesis titled, Where Are My Heroes?, I attempted to respond to this problem by creating a series of biographical children’s picture books on Asian American figures. I wanted to highlight the countless interesting, inspiring, and important Asian American figures out there for both children like me and not like me to read about– tangible narratives on real figures that children could relate to and find examples in.
The main book I worked on is on Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese American artist known for her polka dots and immersive infinity rooms. The book follows her life, emphasizing the importance of perseverance and the potential for art to be a powerful healing mechanism. The second book, in progress, is on Tammy Duckworth, and will follow her life as an Iraq War veteran and U.S. Congresswoman. Both women also deal with disability in their lives, which is not a topic widely addressed in either the Asian American community or the publishing industry (the CCBC reported that a child with disability appeared in only 21 picture books out of the 3400).
Through this project, I hope to advocate for increased visibility and representation of all people of color (as well as intersectional groups who have also been marginalized) within this specific industry, as both subjects and creators of our stories, but also in the greater fabric of American culture and history.
 Cooperative Children’s Book Center from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Read more about my thoughts and process on my blog.
Click here to view and purchase an online version of the book. Contact me if you are interested in a hard copy!
Some illustrations from the project: