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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Secret World of Walter Anderson, written by Hester Bass and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $21.00 ages 12 and up

"There was once 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.
His name was Walter Anderson."

When Walter Anderson's story arrived at my door, I did not know that I was in for such a reading treat. I knew nothing of the man and was in awe of his love for the natural world, his patience and fortitude and his unerring determination to bring his observations to the greater world. Recently I read that this lovely and inspiring book has been named the 2010 NCTE Orbis Pictus Outstanding Nonfiction Book. It was also named a notable Social Studies trade book in the United States, while winning numerous accolades from a varitey of children's literature sites. Bravo!

In the most simplistic terms it is the story of an artist who spends weeks alone on an uninhabited island, with no water or electricity, while sketching and painting the world he finds there. But, it is so much more. I love reading about people, places and events that are new to me, and so inspiring. I did not know Walter Anderson's art or his story. As with all new learning, I used this book to begin my education about a man whose life was given to his art, who wanted the bigger world to appreciate the many faces of art and who spent many of his days in solitude because of his need to paint. Art dominated his life and, although he struggled with life's many obstacles, he made a powerful and lasting contribution to American art.

"Walter Anderson painted to realize his secret world, to bring himself and nature into one thing called art."

The author's note provides a poignant picture of a man considered eccentric by his neighbors. She shares with compassion the events and milestones in his life. While he loved his family, he could not live with them. So, he lived in a cottage on the family's compound. It was not until after his death that his wife entered a locked 'secret' room in his cottage. There she discovered his love for the island that he had visited so often, and the legacy of the art he left behind. This powerful story is rich in detail, suffused with the elegance of E. B White's watercolor illustrations and will intrigue its many readers. After learning what I have learned about Walter Anderson, I would love to visit Ocean Springs, Mississippi and his museum there. I would not be alone, I am sure. Now, that's a recommendation for an amazing picture book.

"He may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of."

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