Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Frida Kahlo

October24

I never painted dreams or nightmares. I painted my own reality. – Frida Kahlo

It is important, yet challenging, to introduce Frida Kahlo to children. As one of the premier Mexican artists, her life story and body of work are inspirational. Yet, some of her paintings reveal the physical and emotional pain that she felt, and this is sometimes too complex for younger children to understand.

Monica Brown’s book, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra (North South) is the perfect picture book biography to introduce her to young children. The author focused on the many animals that Frida had as pets during her life – two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a cat, and a fawn. Brown wrote mostly of Frida’s childhood, and she included few details of her polio and later accident that left her in constant pain. There is also little mention of her husband, Diego Rivera.

Who Was Frida Kahlo? By Sarah Fabiny, illustrated by Jerry Hoare (Grosset & Dunlop) depicts Kahlo’s life for our intermediate readers. This biography is part of the popular Who Was Series. Important facts about Kahlo’s life and times are included to explain the world in which she lived. There are pages on The Mexican Revolution, Diego Rivera, The Great Depression, and Surrealism.

Brothers and Artists

September6

“A single human face can give an artist the subject matter to fill a lifetime.”
Alberto Giacometti

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Holiday House)

Alberto and Diego Giacometti were born and raised in the small Swiss village of Stampa. While they had two other siblings, the boys were inseparable, yet very different in attitude and aptitude. Because their father was a painter, there were always art supplies in their home for the children to use. Alberto spent hours drawing and reading, and at 13 years old, he created his first sculpture of Diego. These activities didn’t interest Diego at all, and he roamed the countryside observing animals and nature.

Alberto began to travel to learn about art. While visiting museums, churches, and artists, he kept journals of sketches and ideas. He went to study in Paris and was impressed by the Surrealists who believed that art should not come from life, but from the imagination. During this time of self-education for Alberto, Diego was aimless and lacked direction in his life. He moved to Paris to be with his brother, and they rented a decrepit studio where Alberto could create.

After WWII, Alberto eventually found his own style for sculpture, and his sculptures became larger and thinner. Diego became indispensable to him as he took his brother’s plaster molds and cast the pieces in bronze. He then brushed the surfaces with acid to produce various patinas. By 1948, Alberto was well-known, and he exhibited his work in the U.S. and Europe.

After Alberto died in 1966, Diego experimented with his own style also using bronze. He created pieces of furniture that were their own works of art. He, too, exhibited internationally for almost 20 years.

Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan carefully researched and skillfully wrote Two Brothers, Four Hands. The illustrations by Hadley Hooper complement the text and bring the story to life.

Photo from left: Alberto, Diego, and Annette, Alberto’s wife from icp.org

Louis Agassiz Fuertes

April25

 

If the birds of the world had met to select a human being who could best express to mankind the beauty and charm of their forms, their songs, their rhythmic flight, their manners for the heart’s delight, they would unquestionably have chosen Louis Fuertes.  Frank M. Chapman, Ornithologist

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist (Two Lions) by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici

Many people know some information about John James Audubon (1785-1851). Far fewer have heard about Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) who also made many contributions as a “bird artist”. He was inspired by and studied Audubon’s work, and Fuertes is known as the Father of Modern Bird Art.

From his early years, Louis loved to watch birds, care for injured birds, and draw birds. Whenever he went to the library, he looked for books on birds. When he found a book of bird art, he was intrigued. Even though his father wanted him to be an engineer, his parents supplied him with art supplies to create his own sketches of birds. Louis continued his study and practice throughout college. During his lifetime, bird artists killed birds with either a gun or slingshot and posed the birds to draw them. Fuertes learned to draw quickly so that he didn’t have to follow that practice. He was keen on observing various species in their natural environments, and he traveled all over the world to do so.

(Pink Flamingoes Mural painted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes – Photo from Wikipedia)

Fuertes illustrated many books on birds, and he painted the habitat murals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He taught at Cornell University. During his lifetime, his art was so popular that collectors’ cards of his paintings were included in boxes of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
 

Margarita Engle’s book, The Sky Painter, is written in a simple poetic form. Yet, it should pique the curiosity of the reader to learn more about this talented man. Aliona Bereghici”s illustrations, especially of the birds, are colorful and evoke Fuertes’ style.

Charley Harper

October19

You should always be doing something that satisfies you, what makes you feel good inside. 
― Charley Harper from Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

Michelle Houts introduces intermediate and middle school readers to Harper in Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper (Ohio University Press). The author was given total access to Charley’s childhood photographs, letters, grade cards, art school documents, wedding pictures, awards, and commendations by his son, Brett

Houts narrates the life story of this West Virginia farm boy who never had a formal art class until after high school. When he was young, Charley enjoyed sketching and observing nature. The author learned an anecdote about his schooling:

He was a good student, but he quickly figured out that he could get even better grades in both English and history if he added a few illustrations to his homework papers. Charley liked to tell the story of how he once saved his history grade by drawing all the presidents. (Houts, p.9)

After a short attendance at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Charley took a life-changing risk and moved to enroll in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Not only did this educational experience open up the world of art to him, but he also met Edith McKee who became his wife. As artists, they challenged and supported each other.

When Charley joined the army during WWII, his commanders recognized his ability to draw. He joined an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. As a scout, he was responsible for drawing “quick, accurate sketches of the area.” He also drew and painted scenes that depicted the people and areas through which he traveled. When he returned to the U.S., Harper took advantage of the GI Bill, and he enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City. Because of all of these life experiences, Charley had found his style, and he went on to build his outstanding body of work.

When Charley Harper drew a bird, he reduced the bird down into shapes of circles and triangles. His style is now recognized as “minimal realism.” In describing his style, Harper said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

Michelle Houts biography is a fine companion to some of our art books on this talented artist.

 

 

Photographer Gordon Parks

May31

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman)

It’s always interesting to learn why an author chose to write about a particular subject. Carole Boston Weatherford explains that she met Gordon Parks, a photographer whom she admired, at an exhibit of his work. She had grown up viewing his photos in Life magazine. As an adult, her Aunt Helen told her about working with Parks in Washington, D.C. Weatherford has a picture of her aunt that may have been taken by Parks.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was a world-famous photographer, novelist, poet, musician, and film director. He was the youngest of fifteen children, and he was raised amid poverty and segregation. After both parents died, Parks was struggling to support himself when he was fifteen years old. He worked as a busboy, piano player, porter, and waiter. As a waiter in a railroad dining car, Parks noticed glossy photographs in magazines. He spent $7.50 to buy a used camera and taught himself how to use it. Parks was soon hired to shoot fashion and portraits.

When he moved to Chicago, Parks recorded the plights of impoverished families, and this earned him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. It was there that he was once again struck by the poverty experienced by the black families who lived in the shadows in our nation’s capital.

Parks embarked on a mission to expose the racism that he saw, and he chronicled the life of Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in the building where he worked. Mrs. Watson supported herself, her grandchildren, and an adopted daughter on just $1000.00 a year. He had the idea to photograph Mrs. Watson in a pose reminiscent of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic. (Photo taken from Wikipedia) Parks placed his subject in front of an American flag holding a mop and broom, and he titled the photo, American Gothic, Washington, D.C. This stark image engendered much discussion, and it became one of Park’s most noted works. While continuing his career as a fashion photographer, he went on to use his camera as an instrument of change by illustrating scenes of segregation and poverty.

Later in his life, Gordon Parks wrote a novel, The Learning Tree, which he also directed as a feature film. He was the director of the 1971 movie, Shaft. Gordon Parks became recognized, not only as an artist but also as a humanitarian.

 

 

Ernie Barnes – Athlete and Artist

May15

When I became an athlete, I didn’t stop being an artist. – Ernie Barnes

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster)

Perhaps it was kismet that Ernest Barnes (1938-2009) was born in 1938 on July 15th, the same date that Rembrandt was born in 1606. Ernest was a shy child who drew in the mud. He marveled at the paintings at the house where his mother was a housekeeper when he accompanied her to work. His mother knew of his love of art, and she also knew that Ernest wouldn’t be welcomed into art museums in the segregated South. As a plump and timid boy, he was sometimes taunted and bullied. Ernest began to carry a sketchbook with him, to escape that reality. He chronicled the everyday life that he saw – the junk man and families walking home from church.

When he was in high school, a weight coach discovered him off by himself and drawing. The coach convinced 6’3” Ernest to begin to fitness train in order to feel better about himself. He then joined the football team and excelled at the sport. By his senior year, he was the captain of the team, and he received twenty-six offers of scholarships from colleges to play football. Choosing North Carolina College at Durham, Ernest played football and studied art. One of his art teachers, Mr. Wilson, encouraged him to continue to look all around him and be inspired by what he saw.

Ernest was drafted to play professional football, and that’s when he became known as Ernie. Even when he was on the bench or in the midst of a game, he was inspired by the color and action around him. The sideline images inspired him to paint The Bench, which became a major piece in Barnes’ body of work. He never sold The Bench, and it is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

When his football career ended, Ernie was finally able to devote his life to his art. He continued to explore the beauty in scenes of everyday life. His work is characterized by movement and color. Ernie was asked to be the official artist of the 1984 Olympic Games because art critics called him “America’s best painter of sports”. However, Ernie tackled many subjects other than sports. His painting, Sugar Shack, appeared each week at the end of the popular 1970s television show, Good Times. When the star of the show, JJ, became an artist, it was Ernie’s paintings that were used. Marvin Gaye also featured Sugar Shack as the cover of his album, I Want You.

When he was in college, Ernie was at an art museum and questioned why artists of color weren’t represented there. A docent answered him, “Your people don’t express themselves in that way.” Ernie knew this wasn’t true, and today his work is owned and displayed by museums all over the United States.

Author Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier teamed up to introduce Ernie Barnes to young people. Adults should check out Between the Lines to share it with children and enjoy it themselves.

Louise Bourgeois

October14

clothLouise Bourgeois’ (1911-2010) art has been exhibited in museums all over the world. She worked in many mediums, although she is probably best known for her sculptures of spiders. In 2011, one of her works, Spider, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a woman’s piece of art, when it sold at auction for $10.7 million. In 2015, that same piece resold for $28.2 million. In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers) the author explores Bourgeois’ life story. Louise was a young girl who was born in Paris into a family who restored tapestries, and she became one of the premier contemporary artists.

As a twelve year old, Louise learned the family trade, and she began to repair missing fragments of the tapestries that were brought to the shop. Her mother taught her about the styles of textiles, form, color, weaving, dyeing, and stitching. As a child, Louise also kept diaries of her thoughts and ideas. When she went to university in Paris, Louise first studied mathematics. After her mother’s death, she went to the Sorbonne where she became fascinated with sculpture as well as painting.

After moving to the United States with her husband and children before WWII, Louise struggled with entering the art exhibition world in a new country. As she explored new areas in her own work, she began to be recognized. Bourgeois exhibited and taught for years, and she influenced many other artists.

spiderSome of her signature pieces and themes are very large spiders. She wrote that (Drawing was) “like a thread in a spider’s web.” And “If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.”

(Image taken from The Guardian)

Beatrix Potter

September2

BeatrixOne of the world’s most beloved author/illustrators, Beatrix Potter, was born on July 28, 1866. There have been numerous events this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.

(Photo of Miss Potter taken from The National Trust & Frederick Warne Ltd.)
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, were born to privilege, as their parents were quite wealthy. When they were growing up, they associated with few children of the same age as governesses educated them. However, they were encouraged to explore the natural world, especially during the summer on holidays, first in Scotland and then in the Lake District of England. It was here that Beatrix blossomed and recorded her observations of life.

One of Beatrix’s governesses was only three years older than her, and Annie Moore Carter acted as a lady’s companion to her. Annie and Beatrix became lifelong friends, and Miss Potter wrote entertaining letters illustrated with sketches to Annie’s children. In 1893, while she was on holiday, Potter composed a story to Annie’s son Noel, who was ill. She wrote about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” This letter was the basis for Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This talented artist, naturalist, and author went on to become a landowner, farmer, and conservationist in the Lake District. She purchased large plots of land to preserve the area. Her donation of her property to the National Trust is now included in the Lake District National Park.

One of her unpublished stories, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which was written in 1941, is being published this month. The illustrations are by Quentin Blake, a contemporary British illustrator, who has written many children’s books.

As part of the celebration of her life, Penguin Random House commissioned street artist Marcus Crocker to give Potter’s characters a modern makeover. At first I was “put off” by this modernization, as I considered it a bit sacrilegious to mess around with Peter Rabbit, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Mrs. Tittlemouse. However, in reading about the new Potter figures, I found it interesting.
“The reimagined small versions of the familiar characters reflect the diminutive dimensions of the original Peter Rabbit stories, whilst some also contain a nod to Beatrix Potter’s varied accomplishments as a Conservationist; Botanist; Businesswoman; Artist; Storyteller all of which made her a woman ahead of her time… The figures were carefully crafted to ensure continuity with not only the characters’ own personality traits, but in some cases those of their original creator, in contemporary and surprising ways.”
(https://vimeo.com/168933897)

Lisa Houck

May12

flowers-grow-all-in-a-row-20One of our talented art teachers, Lisa Houck, has produced a colorful board book for toddlers and young children, Flowers Grow All in a Row flowers-grow-all-in-a-row-2page(Pomegranate Kids). The rhyming text compliments the bright illustrations that are made from white-line woodcuts. Working in this method is one of Lisa’s specialties, and she teaches it to our middle school students, as well as to adults in different venues. With traditional woodblocks, the artist cuts away the area around the drawing, and that cut away area becomes negative and does not accept the paint or ink. In white-line woodcutting, the outline of the design is cut or grooved which leaves a white line between the designs that accept the color. Flowers Grow All in a Row is a counting book illustrated with whimsical flowers.

lisa-houck-bright-world-coloring-book-70page-bright-world-coloring-book-72Lisa has also published a fun coloring book entitled Bright World (Pomegranate Kids). Both children and adults may enjoy this coloring book. Anyone who has discovered the peace that comes from coloring can recreate the colors that Lisa used in her illustrations or try their own combinations. If you know a child or adult who loves to color, Bright World would be a gift for them. Bright World and Flowers Grow All in a Row will be available to purchase at our book fair.

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Beatrix Potter

March10

peterJuly 28th will be the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. Many events are scheduled in Great Britain and the United States to celebrate her life.

Beatrix Potter, one of the world’s most famous storytellers, is celebrated in a new biography for our youngest readers. Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box was written and illustrated by David McPhail (Henry Holt, 2015). The author/illustrator used watercolor and ink on illustration board for the delightful artwork that is reminiscent of Potter’s own art.

beatrixMcPhail’s spare text begins by describing what life was like for children during the 19th century when nannies and tutors worked for wealthy families. The children sometimes spent a great deal of time exploring on their own. Beatrix was given her mother’s paint box when she was young, and the girl made her own sketchbooks out of paper and string. From the beginning, Beatrix drew and painted animals and scenes from nature. While she was given formal painting lessons, she preferred to paint in her own style, so the tutoring was stopped. As an adult, Miss Potter wrote and illustrated a story about a rabbit for the son of a friend who was sick. Remembering her own time of convalescence from an illness when she was a child, Beatrix sent along her little story to cheer him. The child’s mother encouraged the artist to publish her book, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit became a gift to all children.

There are many, many books written for children and adults about this remarkable woman. McPhail’s just happens to be the latest biography written for beginning readers. It is a natural companion to Potter’s own tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle Duck, and so many other delightful characters. Fair warning…adults who share Miss Potters tales and biography with their children, just may become immersed in her world. The numerous adult biographies and books about her home and gardens are tantalizing. Two of my adult favorites are At Home with Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, 2013).

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