Young Readers Meet the “Maestro of Glass” – World of Glass: The Art of Dale Chihuly

Lynn: The team of Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan have brought a wonderful array of artists to the attention of young readers in their many books including Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Gehry, Martha Graham and Vincent Van Gogh. I’ve found all the team’s books fascinating but their new book has to be my favorite yet. World of Glass: The Art of Dale Chihuly (Abrams, 2020),

This visually spectacular book is an excellent meshing of biography, introduction to the singular creative process of glassblowing, and an exploration of Chihuly’s work and series. The authors do an excellent job of presenting a complex and unusual subject in terms appropriate for younger readers without oversimplifying it. Greenberg and Jordan were able interview Chihuly extensively in his studio and the result is a fascinating look at this extraordinary artist. The text is peppered with Chihuly’s comments and reflections and has a terrific in-person feel to it.

And as it should, the book is as much photographs of Chihuly’s work as it is text. It is a stunningly beautiful book and masterfully designed, featuring color photographs, many full page. Some show Chihuly and his team at work, some are historical from his early life but most are of the gorgeous glass artwork in sites, installations, and museums. To see something created by Dale Chihuly is an unforgettable experience and this book will delight those already familiar with his work and will surely create new admirers. I learned a lot and esteem this artist all the more. I will never forget the Chihuly installation at the Frederick Meijer Gardens. It drew throngs of people and my young grandsons and I made multiple visits. They begged for repeat visits and what Grandmother could say no to that?

Cindy: Imagine with me. A family visits an outdoor exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s art and then spots this book in the gift shop. Mesmerized like Lynn and her grandsons, they buy the book and discover it is one that the whole family will look at again and again. They learn about the whole team behind Chihuly who help create his visions in thousands of pieces of blown glass. Glimpses into the studio of the glass blowing process are fascinating and often look more like circus acts than artistic creation. They see the protective suits worn to carry the new HOT creations to an annealing oven where they might cool for twenty-four hours. They read about the team of 30 that travels with him and the 100 local workers he hires to help install the many pieces of glass into the stunning completed work. Included in the story is the heartbreak of Chihuly losing his brother, his father, and one eye in tragic events and the loving support of a mother who encouraged a wild young boy to be who he needed to be. It’s a book to return to as many times as you long to return to a Chihuly Exhibit once you’ve seen one. I had the joy of seeing some of his same works exhibited in two very different environments, first at the Phoenix Botanical Garden, and then again in Grand Rapids, Michigan with Lynn at our exemplary Frederick Meijer Gardens. It was fascinating how different the glass looked among cactus with desert mountains behind compared with our green, wooded, and water landscapes. If you get out our way, you can see “Lena’s Garden” a glass flower ceiling in the cafe and the “Gilded Champagne Glass Chandelier”, both worth the visit. Of course, not every kid will have the opportunity to see these sculptures in the wild, or to purchase the book, so libraries, once again, will open new worlds and ideas and experiences for everyone. Stock up. Jan and Sandra, we already can’t wait to experience your next book! 

 

 

 

Chance – Uri Shulevitz’s Story of Survival and Hope

Lynn: Survival in desperate times is often a matter of chance as Uri Shulevitz says in his new book, Chance: Escape from the Holocaust (Farrar, 2020). But as in all things in life, there is much more to Shulevitz’s story. This book is a searing tale of horrifying privation but it is also about determination, love, and the start of an artistic life.

When Uri Shulevitz was only 4, the Nazis attacked Poland. Uri’s father fled into Russia and the plan was for Uri and his mother to join him later. In a brief period when the borders remained open, Uri and his mother traveled by smuggler’s truck from German-occupied Poland into Russia, joining his father in Bialystok. Escaping from the Nazis was an incredibly fortunate act but this still was the beginning of 10 years of horrifying oppression, extreme poverty, disease, and starvation. Denied employment except in labor camps, the family traveled to a settlement north of Arkangel on the Baltic Sea, east to Turkestan, and in 1945, an equally harrowing journey back to Warsaw and eventually to Paris.

Shulevitz writes for a young audience and he forges a remarkable combination of an honest picture of the reality in language and images appropriate for the audience and manages somehow to never be overly graphic. Shulevitz speaks straight to the reader and his choices of small vignettes move the story forward while also skillfully giving youngsters the tools to understand the unimaginable.

“Hunger is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it,” he writes.

He goes on to describe being so hungry that his mother made and cooked a patty of grass for him. Uri devoured every bit and then, unable to process it, he suffered intense diarrhea, having to flee to a maggot-ridden outhouse with no roof and wipe himself with stones because there was no toilet paper. Shulevitz also provides the moments that kept him going. Drawing was his lifeline and his love of the stories his mother told.

“My poor loving mother couldn’t feed my body but she did magnificently feed my mind.”

It is the masterful use of these and other brilliantly written moments that make this a book that readers will never forget. This is a truly inspiring story of deep suffering and amazing survival. It is a look inside a mind and soul who somehow came out the other side of a living hell and triumphed after all. This book is a gift to us all.

Cindy: We know Uri Shulevitz from his long, successful career authoring and illustrating award-winning picture books. Departing from this format, at age 85, he has written a memoir that will find a wide audience age range, starting with the upper elementary students who can handle the painful experiences. For the older students and adults who read this, it will be a book they won’t forget. The painful events and the sweet, simple joys that helped Uri and his family and all of those with shared experiences, are chronicled not just in words, but in Uri’s art. He started to draw at the age of three and encouraged by his parents, continued to use his art as one survival strategy. The scenes include touches of architecture and his surroundings but feature the vivid expressions of the many emotions, illnesses, and deprivations he experienced. Photographs and mementos that miraculously survived the wartime travels are included as well. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux deserve mention for giving this book the quality bookmaking that it deserves. It is a beautiful volume that will become a classic.

This past year as many have endured family loss and true hardships and others have complained about less serious deprivation like toilet paper shortages and mask-wearing, this memoir shows another time in our history in which true suffering was faced, and if you had good fortune or chance, you endured. Ingrid Roper interviewed Mr. Shulevitz for this July 17, 2020 Publisher Weekly article, and at the end, he speaks of what he hopes will help others through our current pandemic:

“My mother’s stories and drawing were a lifeline for me during that time as a refugee,” he says. “And I hope readers will seek their own lifeline now. Everyone is different, and it will be different for everyone. But finding that is critical. And if this book helps them do so, my book will be happy and so will I.”

The Rebels and Revolutionaries: James Rhodes Introduces Classical Music to Teens

Cindy: What I learned about classical music was mostly learned during my high school days playing flute in our small school’s band and later watching the movie Amadeus. I’m not quite serious, but almost. My middle school orchestra students are probably way ahead of me today. It’s not for lack of wanting to know more, it’s for the lack of knowing where to begin or how to approach such a large body of music of which I know so little. If it’s intimidating to me, it surely must be for a teen who may have even less interest in pursuing that interest without some inspiration. And thus, concert pianist James Rhodes to the rescue for many of us. Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound (Candlewick, 2019) is just the ticket. Packaged in the trim size to match an LP cover and stunningly illustrated by Martin O’Neill, this book will attract and convert new classical music fans.

In his introduction, Rhodes admits that classical music has a reputation of belonging to old people and about as interesting to read about as algebra. He makes a good case for why that just isn’t so. And, he also explains why this book focuses on the dead white males and makes some suggestions for composers to explore outside the “established ‘classics.'”

The book then opens with a Spotify playlist Rhodes created asking the reader to access it and listen along throughout the book. This is genius! From there we start in with each composer. When you see the double-page spread of “Bach: The Godfather,” him in short sleeves with double sleeve tattoos sporting the quote, “If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it,” you know this isn’t your grandfather’s classical music book! O’Neill’s collage work (with a zine-like feel) is stunning throughout, and will attract young artists in addition to musicians!

For instance, Rhodes answers the question, “Where to even begin with Mozart…”

You can buy the complete compositions of
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart on CD.
Or, to be precise, on 180 CDs.
ONE. HUNDRED. AND EIGHTY.

He says, “Imagine Rihanna or Coldplay releasing SIX albums a year. Every year. For thirty years. It’s ridiculous.”

Each composer gets a double-page spread called “The Facts of Life” that includes basic bio, quotes about or by the artist, musical output, tracks of contemporary artists including rock and rap that have referenced or sampled the composer’s music, and soundtracks of movies, tv, and streaming series that have used that composer’s music. The facing page is a short essay that uses humor and adoration to convey the highlights of his life and career. The following two double-page spreads each explores a composition as an introduction to a piece of music (so, two per artist) with a reminder to listen to those tracks in the playlist. Listening to the track before, during, and after reading those essays was very helpful to not only understanding the particular piece and its composer better, but it gives the non-music student some help in how to listen to all music, classical or not. I recommend this for all secondary school libraries (and music classrooms), public library collections (adult departments, too), and as a gift book for that young person beginning their own musical instrument.

Lynn: I grew up with music as part of my family life. My father loved music, especially classical and jazz and he played music every evening. Being a college professor, he was always ready to teach on any subject that interested him and my sister and I absorbed a lot of music history over the years – sometimes more than we wanted at the time! I came to this book, interested but not expecting to get much more than a refresher look at some of the important composers. Boy was I wrong! Oh the facts are there, wonderfully chosen to appeal to teens and humanize the historical figures—and yes, show them as revolutionaries of music. The introduction to famous pieces is there and information about why each composer stands out. But what completely captivated me was Rhodes’ intensely infectious love for classical music, his spellbinding passion to share that, and his ability to convey that passion to a skeptical teen. It is clear in every syllable that James Rhodes champions classical music and the shining highlight of this impressive book is his ability to make current teens give it a chance. I already love the music and I found his words so compelling that I listened to every note of the playlist with a new sense of wonder. I am so hooked and I think teens will be too.

I admire so much about the writing here but one of my absolute favorite of the repeating sections is where Rhodes describes the musical selections on the playlist. Sometimes he tells about what was happening at the time or he imagines what the composer might have been feeling. Often he describes the way the music makes him feel. Here is his quote about Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. It will give you a good feel for the wonderful tone of this book:

“…as the piano begins, I can see a beautiful bird floating miles above the earth, then soaring down toward the ground and landing on my shoulder. It picks me up and flies me away from all the madness and confusion of the world, up to a place where nothing seems to matter. At least this is what I imagine. I’m sure you will have your own story–it is such a moving piece of music.”

I dare you to read that and resist the urge to immediately listen to the music!

Rhodes also includes a short informational page on a symphony orchestra and a really helpful Timeline of Western Classical Music and the back matter includes a glossary of musical terms.

 

 

A Sporting Chance: from Incurables to Paralympic Champions

Lynn: I’ve seen a T-Shirt recently that proclaims, “I read. I know things.” I like that but what I want is a T-Shirt that says, “I didn’t know that!” I needed to wear that shirt when I read A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic  Games (Houghton, 2020). This truly outstanding book by Lori Alexander made me exclaim this sentiment the entirety of the book! The book is intended for younger readers, Gr. 2-5, and it introduces them to an extraordinary figure, Ludwig Guttmann. I am sorry to say that I knew nothing about Guttmann or his many outstanding contributions or so much more that Alexander so skillfully conveys.

Ludwig Guttmann’s early life was spent in Germany near the Polish border. A variety of experiences led him to become a neurologist and skilled surgeon. But when the Nazis came to power, Guttmann, a Jew, was forbidden to treat non-Jewish patients and then he lost his medical license completely. As conditions worsened for the Jewish people, Guttmann was able to escape to England where he had to begin again to establish himself as a physician. Finally, his deep interest and research in spinal injuries resulted in him establishing a neurology unit and resuming his ground-breaking work.  Again, I had absolutely no idea that spinal injuries were considered un-treatable as late as the end of WWII or that doctors expected patients to die within the year. It is no surprise that 80% of spinal injury patients did just that considering the prevailing appalling beliefs about treatment. Observing the benefits of sports participation for his patients, prompted Guttmann to establish and promote what became the Paralympics. Dr. Guttmann revolutionized understanding and treatment of spinal injury cases and thanks to this book, young readers will come away with a solid grasp of Guttmann’s contributions. They will also gain a real admiration for Guttmann, his perseverance, and the enormous obstacles he had to overcome in his life as well as his impact on the world.

Alexander does an outstanding job of presenting complex and wide-ranging information here for young readers, including scientific and historical background but not bogging down the text. The story is a fascinating one but it is also one with many facets and Alexander manages all of this extremely well. I learned so much from this enjoyable and really inspiring story. Now – where is that T-Shirt????

Cindy: “Incurables.” That’s what spinal injury patients were called. What a journey in the last 80 years and Ludwig Guttmann’s story is fascinating, inspiring, and cautionary. Perseverance and the belief that horrible situations do not have to remain the status quo are characteristics that young readers can learn from as they read this book.

The sometimes tough subject matter and the historical photos are supplemented perfectly for the young audience by Allan Drummond’s illustrations throughout the book. In 2011 we blogged about Energy Island, a book he both wrote and illustrated, and we’ve been fans of his ever since.

The final chapter, “Going for Gold,” features some of the amazing athletes who have won medals at the Paralympic Games.

I was moved to investigate the Paralympic Organization’s website and found this short video that includes Guttmann on their history page. There are more videos and information to be found there, including one about the Stoke Mandeville Hospital and Spinal Treatment Unit.

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh: A Controversial Life

Cindy: From the back cover of The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2020) by Candace Fleming:

First person to successfully
fly across the Atlantic.

Media Sensation.

Nazi Sympathizer,
Anti-Semite.

Environmentalist.

White Nationalist.

Charles Lindbergh
was all this and more.

Fleming delivers a stunning teen biography of a complex man, structuring it in two sections: his historic rise to world fame, and his fall from hero-worship by many and his disenchantment with technology that had been his life’s passion. Most students will have heard of his achievement of completing the first solo trip across the Atlantic in an airplane, a feat that brought him discomfort with the celebrity. Some will have heard about the kidnapping of his firstborn son, but Fleming’s storytelling, using much dialogue right from Charles’ and wife Anne’s diaries and other writings will keep them turning the pages as the tragedy and the investigation unfolds. Fewer will know the details of his fascination with Hitler and Nazi “orderliness,” his serious work with a doctor in inventing a pump that kept organs alive outside the body in order to prolong life, perhaps indefinitely, and his rise as a White Nationalist leading rallies that sound oh-so-familiar today.

Just as Fleming did with The Family Romanov and another aviator in Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Charles comes to life with all of his human frailties, incongruities, and troubling behaviors. Just as clear is his drive and demand for precision. I realize it was a different time, but Anne was a saint to put up with him…as were his other two families in Europe that she didn’t know about. In fact, Anne is as fascinating to read about in many ways as is Charles. In this wonderful Publisher’s Weekly Q&A with Candace Fleming, she admits she came to like Anne quite a bit. Celebrities and heroes. There’s a lot to ponder here. Strap on your reading goggles and prepare yourself for quite a ride when you read this one!

Lynn: I am such a fan of Fleming’s biographies and this one not only captured my complete attention, it stayed in my mind for days after I finished it. Absorbing and wonderfully written, Fleming’s masterful biography incorporates the diaries and writings, as Cindy says, of both Charles and Anne, allowing these complicated individuals to tell much of their own stories. Charles especially reveals himself as incredibly complicated and flawed, socially stunted, and seemingly unable to connect emotionally with others. I was fascinated by his decades-long search for a way to end death, something that guided his thinking in multiple ways.

Lindbergh’s early years and the story of the tragic kidnapping of their first child was familiar to me from other books but I still appreciate Fleming’s presentations of this period of his life for young people. She did an excellent job of providing the necessary historical and cultural background necessary for understanding. I found the last third of the book, beginning with the family moving to England, the lead up to the war, the isolationist political efforts, and Lindbergh’s older years to be deeply interesting and packed with information that was new or provided expanded details.

The book includes outstanding back matter with an extensive bibliography and source notes and well-chosen photographs that tie directly to the text. I read this in galley and I am eager to see the finished copy. 6 starred reviews and every one deserved! This will be a great crossover book for adult readers.