Rhoda vividly remembers exciting New York weekends with her grandfather Toppy, the artist Charles R. Knight, who created many of the murals at the American Museum of Natural History.
Co-author Kalt—Rhoda herself, now grown up—provides a frame, using their weekend jaunts as an entree into Toppy’s life. Toppy was nearly blind but was nevertheless determined to become a wildlife artist, inspired by childhood visits to the American Museum of Natural History. He took art lessons, studied the animals at the Central Park Zoo, and spent hours at the museum’s taxidermy department. His first assignment was painting a prehistoric creature, working from a skeleton. He used every skill he had developed and brought all his knowledge of animals to the task. In scenes with little Rhoda, Toppy’s impromptu lectures, demonstrations, and expansive invitations provide further insights into his character and artistic achievements. Most important is his gentle insistence that Rhoda follow her own heart in determining her future endeavors. Two voices narrate the tale, in both present and past tenses and across several time periods. It is somewhat awkward, but Kerley maintains a careful balance, and it works. Knight’s own lifelike creations appear interspersed with Stephens’ bright, clever, and whimsical gouaches on watercolor. Rhoda and Toppy are white. In a note, Stephens tells of his own vision impairment and his admiration for Knight, and an excerpt from Knight’s own work is also appended.
A loving remembrance of a tender, enduring intergenerational relationship. (authors’ notes, sources, photos) (Picture book/memoir. 4-9)