Dream Something Big: The Story of the Watts Towers by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Susan L. Roth
Told through the voice of a fictional child, this is a look at the building of the Watts Towers, a huge art piece that is outsider art and has been named a National Landmark. Simon Rodia, called Uncle Simon in the book, built the towers from glass, pottery shards, seashells and a vision. Each piece on the towers was selected by hand. The book shows the careful selection and then the transformation from garbage to art. This is about the artistic dream and the process more than the man himself. Because the building of the towers took decades, the story shows the girl grown into a woman with her own children. It is a story of an artist, his skill, and the strength and vision it took to make it happen.
Aston has written so simply here that her format speaks also to the simplicity yet complexity too of the art itself. She writes in the first person, inviting people into the story. As she explores the process of the art, it is broken into parts and becomes jewel like too. These are small moments and decisions that contribute to the whole. The moments of creation are exceptionally important to the feel of the entire book. They are moments that are celebrated and savored.
Roth’s incredible collage illustrations also elevate this book. They are bright, filled with motion, and there is a constant feel of confetti and celebration on the page. The shards and small treasures slowly coalesce into the towers and the gates around them. The art is so close to reality that when the final page is turned and one sees a photograph of the towers, there is no jilt to reality. Roth captured the spirit of the art so completely that it just feels right to see the real work at that point.
This is a powerful picture book about the process and importance of art and the act of creation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.
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