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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sandy's Circus, written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. Viking, Penguin. 2008. $18.50 ages 6 and up

"Even though Sandy loved creating things, he didn't always want to be an artist. He went to college and learned more about making things by studying to be an engineer. Sandy had different jobs but never really liked any of them. Then he worked as a fireman in the boiler room of a ship. One night, he was sleeping up on deck..."

Alexander Calder's course in life seemed to be set for him from birth. He was born the son of artists and encouraged to create freely from a very early age. The tools needed were always available, and he was given free rein to follow his passion for design. Even as a child, he could be found using wood scraps, bits of wire and leather to fashion items of delight for his friends and his sister.

A singular emotional event after awakening on a ship's deck so impressed him that he turned his talents to art school, and the rest is his story. Taking a job as a newspaper artist sent to draw circus images led him to change course again with a move to Paris. There, he gave his artistic vision free rein in a city that was filled with other artists. He used wire and pliers to ply his trade, and impressed many friends with his intricate work.

"One day, Sandy made a little wire lion. He built a colorful cage for the lion. Of course, since the lion was a wild animal, it needed a tamer. So, Sandy made him, too."

That was just the tip of the iceberg for this talented visionary. It wasn't long until he could use these tiny miniatures to develop a circus show of his own, all carried back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean in five suitcases. His shows were tremendously popular, entertaining huge crowds for hours at a time. All this, before he made the very first mobile!

The text, penned by the accomplished Tanya Lee Stone, is deserving of our attention. We learn much about Sandy Calder's character and drive, his art and his love of moving things. Boris Kulikov uses mixed media to create the illustrations that help young readers understand the importance of Mr. Calder's work. He uses full, bold colors alongside black and white art pieces to bring the intricacy of the designs into perspective. From the close-up images of Sandy working with his circus to the detailed drawings of his life's events, we are always close to the action at hand.

An author's note explains Ms.Stone's abiding interest in the artist, after discovering some of his work while on a leisurely drive through the Connecticut countryside. An archival photo of Mr. Calder at work is included in the back matter, as are sources used for her research. It is a fascinating look at an artist unknown to me until now. I will certainly share his story with others.

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