BOOK REVIEW: Frederick, a children’s book in praise of creativity

Lionni, Leo - Frederick cover (2)Frederick
by Leo Lionni

This classic picture book opens with a family of field mice preparing for winter. They are busy collecting seeds and grains–all except Frederick that is. When his field mice friends ask him what he’s doing, he tells them he is busy collecting sun and colors. It sounds like he’s just being lazy, but in the dark days of winter, his efforts warm his family.

Lionni, Leo - Frederick (1) (1)

Frederick is a sweet narrative about the importance of creativity and imagination, something Leo Lionni had in spades. The Interweb said that Lionni, a 1984 AIGA medalist, would draw pictures to illustrate the stories he told his grandchildren. During a long train ride, however, he found himself without his drawing materials. Instead, he tore scraps of colored paper to create images, and his collage technique was born.

It was these college-based illustrations that originally drew me to Frederick, and they were a delight, simple and expressive. At times though, I found myself amused because Frederick looked a little high. Hey, it was written in the sixties: who knows what Lionni was thinking!

Lionni, Leo - Frederick (3)

Frederick’s lesson is that balance is necessary; art and wonder can be as crucial as food. It’s a book that will charm children and adults alike.

BOOK REVIEW: Meet Cindy Sherman, an excellent introduction to the artist for kids

Meet Cindy ShermanMeet Cindy Sherman: Artist, Photographer, Chameleon
By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Since college, I’ve been fascinated by Cindy Sherman’s photographs, provocative self-portraits, but I actually know very little about her. This summer, I read a biography of Dorothea Lange and On Photography by Susan Sontag, and last month, George and I visited the Eastman Museum. These experiences catalyzed me to learn more about my favorite female photographers, so I decided to buy Meet Cindy Sherman, a book geared to young readers (ages 7-12, according to Publisher’s Weekly).

The book has a marvelous design and is generously illustrated with reproductions of Cindy Sherman photographs. One of the most charming features of the book is the addition of children’s commentary about the photographs. I couldn’t help but chuckle to the kids’ responses to Untitled #172, 1985. Karl said, “The food on the plate looks like worms. Maybe that’s why everyone left” and Gunnar remarked that “whoever set up this meal must be extremely insane.” Humor aside, these blurbs show how kids approach viewing art, and it’s interesting to observe their analytical process. I only wish the authors had explained a little more about how they solicited and collected these observations.

The first few chapters are more traditionally autobiographical, describing Sherman’s childhood and her habit of dressing up in her grandmother’s clothing or, as a teenager, making miniature versions of her clothes so she could plan her outfits for school. Sherman attended college in Buffalo, New York where she switched her major from painting to photography. After graduation, a grant allowed her and her boyfriend to move to New York City, the nexus of the art world, where Sherman was inspired to create her Untitled Film Stills series.

After that, the book is largely organized chronologically around Sherman’s major photography series (omitting Sex Pictures for obvious reasons). I learned a lot about her process and realized I hadn’t been keeping up with her latest work which reflects themes around women’s aging. The book should be very helpful teaching children (and reminding adults) how to look at and analyze photographs and art in general.

Given the target audience and the purpose of the book, the authors did a phenomenal job including thirty years’ of Sherman’s work in a single, brief account. The drawback is that, besides the early chapters, the book contains little about Sherman’s personal life. In some ways, this is made up for with generous quotes about her artistic process, but I still found myself turning to the Interweb to find out biographical details that weren’t included here.

For an introduction to her oeuvre, though, Meet Cindy Sherman should be on school library shelves and in the collections of young or young-at-heart art lovers.