Unbound: The Life & Art of Judith Scott by Joyce Scott with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780525648116)
Told by Joyce Scott, the twin sister of Judith, this picture book explores the closeness of the sisters as small children until they are separated for years. The two sisters shared everything with one another, playing together all the time. Then Joyce is sent to kindergarten and Judith is left behind. Judith has Down syndrome and has never spoken. Then her parents send Judith to a special school where she will live and learn to talk. They don’t visit for a long time and when they do, the school isn’t like other schools. There is no playground, no desks, no books. As they grow older, Joyce gets married and has children. She continues to think of Judith as being at her side all the time. Eventually, she is able to bring Judith out of the institution and to live with her. Joyce finds Judith an art program to be part of. Judith attends but won’t participate at all. Months go by until her teachers give her some natural materials and fabric. Suddenly, Judith is creating unique pieces of sculpture and is celebrated as an artist.
Full of sorrow and loss, this picture book examines the destructive nature of the systematic institutionalization of people with special needs to both the person institutionalized and their loved ones. Having Joyce herself narrate the book is powerful. The beautiful connection the sisters have in their young childhood forms a foundation of connection that allows her to rescue her sister decades later. Even as the book moves to when Judith finds her artistic voice, there is a melancholy to the years lost and the muting of her voice for so long.
Sweet’s illustrations are incredible and moving. She incorporates collage and also builds sculptures to pay homage to Scott’s work. Built with string, textiles, wire and wood, there is a celebratory nature to them of an art newly found. In other moments, Sweet captures wistfulness, longing and connection with light, shadow and color.
An extraordinary look at an artist who was almost lost. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.