Harriet Powers: an artist worth knowing.

READ REVIEW

SEWING STORIES

HARRIET POWERS' JOURNEY FROM SLAVE TO ARTIST

The story of a little-known historical figure whose life was sewn together with quilts.

Harriet Powers, born a slave near Athens, Georgia, grew up surrounded by textile arts: carding, dyeing, and weaving cloth and sewing and stuffing batting into quilts. The women and girls in her family taught her these arts at an early age, and she promised one day to “sew a magic world.” After she married and had children, the Civil War came and went, leaving her large family with no livelihood. Harriet picked up her needle and began to turn nothing into something…something that she loved but sold to feed her family. Though Harriet sewed only two story quilts in her lifetime, their uniqueness and intricacy have made them museum-worthy; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston now house these works of art. Each of the 11 panels in the “Bible” quilt and the 15 in the “Pictorial” quilt contain a story from the Bible or from history. Punctuating Herkert’s narrative of Powers’ life are informative historical tidbits imposed onto small, frayed swatches of fabric. Brantley-Newton’s airy, colorful mixed-media illustrations include a wonderful array of fabrics with different designs and textures, and the skin tones of the black characters depict a realistically diverse range. Unsourced dialogue makes the book problematic as nonfiction, but as a picture-book introduction to an unsung artist, it inspires.

Harriet Powers: an artist worth knowing. (author’s notes, bibliography, quilt explanations) (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-75462-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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Stirring encouragement for all “little people” with “big dreams.” (Picture book/biography. 5-7)

MAYA ANGELOU

From the Little People, BIG DREAMS series

“There’s nothing I can’t be,” young Maya thinks, and then shows, in this profile for newly independent readers, imported from Spain.

The inspirational message is conveyed through a fine skein of biographical details. It begins with her birth in St. Louis and the prejudice she experienced growing up in a small Arkansas town and closes with her reading of a poem “about her favorite thing: hope” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. In between, it mentions the (unspecified) “attack” by her mother’s boyfriend and subsequent elective muteness she experienced as a child, as well as some of the varied pursuits that preceded her eventual decision to become a writer. Kaiser goes on in a closing spread to recap Angelou’s life and career, with dates, beneath a quartet of portrait photos. Salaberria’s simple illustrations, filled with brown-skinned figures, are more idealized than photorealistic, but, though only in the cover image do they make direct contact with readers’, Angelou’s huge eyes are an effective focal point in each scene. The message is similar in the co-published Amelia Earhart, written by Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara (and also translated by Pitt), but the pictures are more fanciful as illustrator Mariadiamantes endows the aviator with a mane of incandescent orange hair and sends her flying westward (in contradiction of the text and history) on her final around-the-world flight.

Stirring encouragement for all “little people” with “big dreams.” (Picture book/biography. 5-7)

Pub Date: July 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-84780-889-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Though the text works hard to convey it, getting an aesthetic sense of Cassatt’s famous body of work will require another...

MARY CASSATT

EXTRAORDINARY IMPRESSIONIST PAINTER

Starting in childhood, impressionist artist Mary Cassatt carves her own path.

Mary grows up “tall and temperamental,” absolutely set on being an artist despite the 1860s social mores dictating that “proper girls weren’t artists. They had polite hobbies—flower arranging, needlepoint.” She attends art school and goes to Paris, sitting in the Louvre to copy the old masters. Connecting with Edgar Degas gives her a community that supports her independent streak: “We paint as we please. We break the judges’ rules.” Herkert’s bold phrasing—“Mary swept jewel tones across her canvas”—implies artistic zest. However, despite varied media (gouache, watercolor, acrylic, enamel, and tempera), Swiatkowska’s illustrations don’t match the text’s descriptions. A spread of “canary yellow, radiant pink, vibrant blue” shows no yellow at all (tan instead) and pleasant but low-intensity blue and pink. “Brilliant tones” and “lightning bolts of white” are narrated but not shown. Skin tones and backgrounds lean toward gray. Readers sophisticated enough to appreciate sentences like “she rendered cropped angles” will notice how much more is told than shown, including the fact that Cassatt is portrayed actually painting only once. Regrettably, Asian art is labeled “exotic.”

Though the text works hard to convey it, getting an aesthetic sense of Cassatt’s famous body of work will require another source. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62779-016-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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