Monday, July 05, 2010

Review: The Secret World of Walter Anderson

by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Candlewick Press, 2009. (review copy). With the gulf struggling under a terrible weight of the BP oil spill, it seems a good time to celebrate the artwork and life's work of Walter Anderson with this stunning biography.

Anderson was an artist living on the gulf coast of Mississippi in the mid 20th century. He is best known for his watercolor paintings of Horn Island, where he would spend days in isolation painting the wildlife. He rowed his skiff out to the island where there was no running water, electricity or even a house. He lived under the shelter of his boat and ate canned beans or whatever washed up on the shore in order to paint non-stop. His family lived in Ocean Springs, MS, where he kept a cottage out in back that was always locked. After his death his wife unlocked it and found, to her amazement, that every inch of the walls was covered in paintings of the wildlife of Horn Island. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the cottage but much of his art was saved in a museum farther inland. In 2003, as a celebration for the 100th anniversary of Walter Anderson's birth, the Smithsonian in Washington DC honored his life's work with a special exhibit.

Bass's biography is simply and wonderfully told. The mystery, the quirkiness, and the passion of Anderson's life is portrayed poetically and lovingly. Opening sentences draw the reader in to discover the wonder of this amazing life:
"There once was a man whose love of nature was as wide as the world.
There once was an artist who needed to paint as much as he needed to breathe.
There once was an islander who lived in a cottage at the edge of Mississippi, where the sea meets the earth and the sky.
Hes name was Walter Anderson.
He may be the most famous American artists you've never heard of."

Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis has done a masterful job of painting scenes from his life and the awesome beauty of the Gulf coast. Reading it in these times, when we see daily updates of ugly oil blotches washing up on beaches and struggling sea birds coated with oil, is all the more poignent and moving.  This is a book to share with young and old, as we strive to cherish the beauty of our world and seek to recover from this disaster.

Bass has included an extensive review of the life and work of Anderson in the final Author's Note. Older readers will learn a lot about the times and the work of this great artist here. She tells us that part of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Anderson family and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art to support their conservation efforts.

for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
awarded by the National Council of Teachers of English
Bank Street Best Children's Books of 2010
CCBC Choices 2010 - Best-Of-The-Year List
chosen by the Cooperative Children's Book Center
Best Children's Books of 2009 - Kirkus Reviews 
2010 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
as selected by the National Council for the Social Studies and the Children's Book Council

Other blog reviews:
Chasing Ray
Kids Lit

This is a book not to miss! Today's Nonfiction Monday Round-up is at 5 Great Books!


Jeannine Atkins said...

I loved this book, too!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I've been wanting to read this; we have a copy of the art activity book Walter Anderson for kids, and it's fabulous. Thanks for the review and reminder!

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you for the reminder of this book; I saw it reviewed some time ago and then let it slip by me. I really must go find it now!