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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Louie! Written and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Philomel, Penguin Group (Canada), 2009. $18.50 ages 5 and up

"He also loved the stories his mother would tell him of her own piglethood. How she had been small and a little mischievous. How she had been sent to an old schoolhouse in Paris that was covered in vines, where the girls walked in two straight lines. Louie would stay up late and draw parts of her story."

In a note from the illustrator, Will Hillenbrand says that this story is loosely based on the life of Ludwig Bemelmans who is mostly widely known for his Madeline story which was published in 1939 and has been a popular seller ever since its publication. He reminds his readers that artists follow their own paths in life, and may not always fit the mold of parents, teachers and interested others. Louie is just such an artist. He is not great at school work, as he is much more interested in filling the margins with his drawings. He is asked to leave schools where he shows little academic success. When he goes to work for his relatives in a hotel, he finds a home where his talent is appreciated and fostered. Eventually, after many little blips in the road, he is discovered by an editor who encourages his art and his talent for storytelling. Using the tales told by his mother who lived in boarding schools and had had many adventures, he fashioned a character who was as feisty as some of the children his mother had described, placed her in a school where girls 'walked in two straight lines', and voila...a story for the ages.

It reads like the best in picture book biographies and is most entertaining, while honoring an artist's life work. Will Hillenbrand understands the drive to create, using mixed media to show a young and talented pig at his best. The pages are filled the details of Louie's life as he lives it, adding depth to the story being told. This is a great book to share when you want to discuss being independent and assured while following your own path, letting your bliss take you where you want to be.

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