Secret World of Walter Anderson

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis.

This picture book biography offers such a strong portrait of American master Walter Anderson that readers will find themselves transported to a different place and viewing things from a new perspective.  Readers follow Anderson on his twelve mile journey to Horn Island, long and solitary row from the mainland.  Though there were no people on the island, Anderson had companions in the animals that lived there.  He kept a journal of his time on the island and of course created art while he was there for weeks at a time.  After presenting Anderson’s unique way of working, the book builds tension about what is in Anderson’s locked room.  The beauty of the reveal after his death is captivating.  This is a true celebration of an artist as author and illustrator embrace his work and life.

The book opens with three strong lines that I found entirely engaging:

There once was a man whose love of nature was as wide as the world.

There once was an artist who needed to paint as much as he needed to breathe.

There once was an islander who lived in a cottage at the edge of the Mississippi, where the sea meets the earth and the sky.

Turning the page, readers will see Anderson climbing a tree to reach a nest and out in the water up to his shoulders to get close to another subject.  Bass’ text draws us into Anderson’s perspective, joyously depicting the barren island and its animal inhabitants and deeply accepting his choices and lifestyle.  Lewis’ watercolor illustrations focus on Anderson himself in his chosen environment.  The various aspects of the island are shown in all of their colors, changing light, and beauty. 

At the end of the book, there is more detailed information about Walter Anderson, his artistic family, and the effect of Hurricane Katrina on their family homes and studios.  Readers of all ages will want to look at the photographs of Anderson’s work.  Make sure to turn all the way to the back for a photograph of that locked room.  Amazing!  There is also a nice bibliography for further reading.

This is a beautiful example of a picture book biography.  Highly recommended for art classes and to expand for children the role and work of an artist. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Check out another review at Chasing Ray.