San Francisco-based illustrator Hanako Wakiyama spent her childhood in Tokyo, Japan, then moved with her family to California during her teen years. She had developed a love of art early on, and her first illustration project, Wendy Tokuda's Humphrey, the Lost Whale: A True Story, was published shortly after she completed college. She developed her unique retro style as a means of making her artwork stand out from the illustration work then in vogue, and it caught the attention of an editor at Chronicle Books, who assigned her to create the illustrations for Claire Masurel's Too Big! Praising the book, about a boy who receives a giant toy dinosaur as his prize for winning a carnival game, Susan Dove Lempke concluded in Booklist that Wakiyama's "paintings glow with soft light and capture the story's gently whimsical tone." While comparing her work to that of author/illustrator William Joyce, a Publishers Weekly critic added of Wakiyama that her "use of unexpected perspectives [in Too Big!] is all her own" and her "delightfully peculiar artwork … fits the fantasy of animated toys especially well."
Wakiyama's colorful oil paintings for Too Big! reflect her early-twentieth-century aesthetic, a style that can be seen in her more-recent work, which includes Erin Dealey's Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox, The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle, and Peggy Archer's From Dawn to Dreams: Poems for Busy Babies. In Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox the illustrator imbues Dealey's text with what Carol Anne Wilson described in School Library Journal as "a decidedly retro feel," the critic adding that "observant viewers will have fun with the visual references to fairy-tale events." Another collaboration with Dealey, Little Bo Peep Can't Get to Sleep, features "playful, retro-style" paintings in "vivid saturated colors" that "keep … the book fresh and childlike," according to School Library Journal critic Angela J. Reynolds. The illustrator's decision to combine "modern and traditional elements" in her illustrations for the
book will satisfy "younger viewers, who will have no trouble identifying the nursery-rhyme characters," in the opinion of a Kirkus Reviews writer.
Reviewing The Best Pet of All for Kirkus Reviews, a contributor concluded that Wakiyama's "insouciant retro-looking illustrations add sly touches of humor" to LaRochelle's story, while Booklist critic Karin Snelson cited the artist's "candy-colored palette, clever use of thought bubbles, and comical touches." In From Dawn to Dreams Wakiyama's retro style gives a nostalgic spin to infanthood as she brings to life Archer's poems about busy babies and toddlers of all sorts. From first steps to bubble baths, the active parts of a baby's day come to life in the artist's clear-toned oil paintings. Praising the illustrations as featuring a '50s aesthetic, School Library Journal contributor Maryanne H. Owen dubbed From Dawn to Dreams "a sweet tribute to young children," while in Kirkus Reviews a contributor noted that Wakiyama combines "vintage colors, Kewpie-doll faces and '40s-inspired motifs to cheery effect."
Hanako Wakiyama lives in southern California and is a widely published author and illustrator of children's books.