Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott (9780399548673)
In this picture book biography, the life of artist Thomas Cole is explored. It begins with his early years in England and his love of drawing. He and his sister explored the area they lived in, looking for new things to draw. But when the Industrial Revolution came, it brought hard times for his family. So Thomas moved to America where his family settled down in Steubenville, Ohio and opened a workshop making decorative items. Thomas handpainted many of them. When he saw a book of fine art for the first time, his dream was born. He went on the road, selling his portraits. He eventually got a patron who sent him on a journey up the Hudson River where Thomas painted the wilderness. Soon his paintings were the toast of New York City. Thomas went on to travel to Europe and was inspired to paint a series of paintings about the fall of an empire. Thomas continued to capture the spirit of America and founded his own school Hudson River school of painting along the way.
Talbott tells the complicated story of Cole’s life with a refreshing ease. He has a real clarity in the story he is telling, keeping the tale focused on the results of Cole’s early struggles and then when he obtains success on the new inspirations Cole found on his travels. The book reads well and Cole’s story demonstrates tenacity and resilience as he followed a winding way toward being well known. It is also the story of a young America, what it said to a young immigrant and how its wilderness was worth preserving.
The illustrations combine a friendly lightness even during Cole’s struggles with Cole’s own paintings. It is a treat to see his actual paintings as part of the book. They are hinted at in other sections, but when it truly is his own they are dazzling. They demonstrate firmly why his art caught on and he became a famous painter.
A particularly timely book about an immigrant artist who loved America and caught her essence in paint. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (InfoSoup)
In 1860, girls did not become artists, but Mary knew exactly what she wanted to do. She enrolled in art school and then moved abroad despite her father’s protests. She copied the masters in The Louvre and lingered outside gallery windows. Art judges disliked her style, but she found herself welcomed to the group of independent artists by Degas himself. Soon she was painting exactly the way she liked and capturing life around her in her art.
Herkert tells the story of Mary Cassatt’s life with such poetic brevity. Her brief lines add to the energetic feel of the book, capturing the tremendous focus and passion of Cassatt herself with their tone. Herkert says things simply as they were and are. She states frankly the expectations of women in that time period, the way that the art institutions rejected Cassatt and the place the Cassatt found support and her own voice.
The illustrations by Swiatkowska pay homage to Cassatt’s own work. Done in a variety of media with gouache, watercolors, acrylics, enamel and tempera, the illustrations have a richness that has a vintage feel about it and focuses on capturing the society that Cassatt lived in and moments in her life.
A beautiful nugget of a picture book biography, this is an inspiring look at a woman who refused to be defined by society and instead lived a life all her own. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure by Claudia McGehee
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Rocky and his father, painter Rockwell Kent, who spent a winter in 1918-1919 on Fox Island, just off the coast of Alaska. Rocky was nine years old at the time. He and his father repaired an old shed and turned it into their cabin. While his father spent time painting, Rocky drew a bit and explored the island a lot. He saw wildlife in the woods, collected shells and stones and the beach. Evenings were spent in the cabin, eating dinner and sharing stories. When the winter came, days filled with different activities like taking snow baths, making snow houses. They took trips to a larger island in their dory, rowing when the weather was good. They faced one large storm when returning home, barely making it to land. All too soon, their time in the wilderness was done. It was a time that Rocky always felt was the best in his life.
McGehee takes readers along on an epic journey to Alaska. The mountains are huge, the water freezing, the woods thick and the animals are everywhere. Told from the point of view of Rocky, the book allows young readers to see Alaska through his eyes and marvel along with him at the wonder of nature. As he walks the woods and explores the shore, he dreams that there may be monsters or pirates around, but looking again he always sees something that fits into the natural scene. The days are filled with exploration and evenings spent together, one gets the sense that there was more than enough adventure to fill their days.
The illustrations are done on scratchboard giving the feel almost of woodcut prints on the page. The result is a very organic feel with thick lines and an interplay of bright colors and deep black. The more natural feel works very well with this Alaskan subject matter, creating an old fashioned feel that enhances the book as well. McGehee captures nature with an ease that makes one want to enter the deep green woods alongside Rocky.
Explore the Alaskan wilderness in all of its wonder in this historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.