Friday, October 5, 2012

Pass It Down: Five Picture-Book Families Make their Mark by Leonard Marcus

Swamped? Don't have time to read? Try this 48 page gem. It is the second Leonard Marcus book I have read and it is an excellent glimpse into the lives of five families of people who make children's picture books. The way that the artists and writers find themselves in the land of books adds human interest along with facts. The Crew family is introduced with the artwork specifically described such as Donald Crew using an airbrush and gouache for his book, Freight Train, or his daughter Nina combining collage and photos in her first book.

Marcus is a terrific writer who gives a feel for the picture-book makers he's characterizing. For instance, Thacher Hurd describes his family's life in an old yellow farmhouse with little money. Thacher loved stepping into his parents art-filled studio that was an "'all-senses-at-once experience,'" a wizard's brew of paint smells, paper textures, tools and brushes, and at the center of it all his tall, rail-thin, slow-moving father silently working." Isn't that a great image? Reminds me my Minnesotan family and father's architecture/art studio. I can hear Grandma yakking in my ear in her Norwegian accent, "Yah (said inhaling... sounds like a gasp), check out dah Hurds Barbie, dey goot artists... with published kid books too, don't cha know."  Then in an interesting twist, Marcus reveals that the Hurds who live a simple life with not much money, both grew up in wealthy, high society families. Clement Hurd illustrated, Goodnight Moon, and he and his wife were dear friends with Margaret Wise Brown and Don Freeman of Corduroy. Then in another twist Thacher explains how hard it was to rebel against his parents because they were so open to anything he did. The only thing he felt he could rebel against was becoming an artist. He entered the business at a later age because of this attitude.

Walter Dean Myers wrote 10 pages a day and read out loud to his son and wife every day. He grew up in foster homes and much of his writing is from this past. The Myer's son, Christopher, was nurtured and encouraged by both parents to pursue his dream of being an artist. I really liked the well-written letter from his agent, Regina Griffin. What great insight into how a good publisher critiques a manuscript. In a constructive, funny, and positive manner she makes suggestions for improving the draft. I admit, I felt somewhat convicted knowing that I've written some harsh reviews. I need to be careful with phrasing and work harder to be constructive versus destructive. This mentality is the same when working with students and teaching. Nothing is gained from anger, harshness, or criticism and it flushes motivation down the drain. What's worse, it is a trusting child who expects you to be kind and fair all the time. I have to be a carafe full of positiveness  and "catch them being good" (as my husband always says). A good reminder.

The next two chapters are about Pinkneys and Rockwells. Brian Pinkney using scratchboard to find his art style that was different from his fathers was fascinating. It also sidetracked me into researching scratchboard and having a discussion with an artist on the technique. Love it. There is a glossary in the back that defines scratchboard. The art form reminds me of woodblock printing but more detailed. Next up, "The Rockwells." They had three girls and Anne describes Lizzy as a "babbler." She also talks about how her parents divorced and her mother abandoned her siblings to pursue her dream of being a writer. The family was split up into different foster homes. There is another letter from the author's editor, but this one gives more insight into the design of the book.

So much for my so-called quick read. I thought I'd buzz through this 48 page book but found myself researching some unknown art techniques, slowing down to enjoy the accompanying photos, letters from editors, and illustrations... basically taking 3 days to mull over the information. Then I thought it is such a quick read I'd buzz through it again. Goes to show you never know what path you'll meander when reading. I am going to hunt down all the Leonard Marcus books I can find to read. My new favorite author. More to come.

Reading Level 6.1
5 out of 5 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment