Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

MayaLin

Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), Jeanne Walker Harvey/Dow Phumiruk

This Women’s History Month, I’m sharing an upcoming (May 2017) picture book about the talented and influential, Maya Lin.

Maya Lin grew up in a creative household; her father a clay artist and her mother a poet. She was encouraged by her immigrant parents to dream and create. Nature was very important to young Maya and would continue to be influential as she grew and developed as an artist and architect.  When she was a senior in college, her understanding of nature, space, design and sensitivity would lead her to win a design competition for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lin received a great deal of push back for her design but held her ground. She showed the world her strength and stood her by creation. What’s special about the memorial is its symbolism, seamless integration into nature and how it makes those who experience it feel. Her art is meant to be experienced; the reflective granite of the memorial, with its thousands of names, elicits reflection.

Phumiruk’s soft, detailed digital illustrations suit this story. I love the first spread of the book where we see the mossy green “Lizard’s Back” hill Lin explored with her brother as a child. I like how Phumiruk uses an aerial perspective for a few key spreads. Seeing Lin from above, surrounded by nature & as she admires the architecture of her college library, highlights how much she was affected by her surroundings as a young artist. The cover of the book is striking too; Maya Lin gazes at her creation, seeing herself reflected while reading the name of a friend’s father who died in the war. The cover illustration reminds me just how important “mirrors” are for children of color and native children.

I really enjoy biographies for children that tell the lives and experiences of people who are living; children take a lot away from the fact that the person is STILL out there dreaming and making change. There simply aren’t enough books about Asian American creatives, let alone Asian American female creatives and I’m glad for this one. Walker Harvey’s great storytelling and Phumiruk’s lovely illustrations make this an important book to add to your collection.

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Biography, Architecture, Women’s History Month, Strong Women, Asian American, Chinese American, Girl Power, Girls In Stem, Determination, Dreams, Creativity, Family, Memorials, History
Book Info: Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey/Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781250112491

 

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

ShiningStar

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

Whenever I see photograph of Anna May Wong…SLAY QUEEN, SLAY!   >_<

Anna May Wong grew up in LA washing clothes in her parents laundry and healing from the hateful slurs from her white peers at school. She started skipping school to watch actors on movie sets and was inspired to act. Though she was discouraged by her parents (good Chinese girls didn’t act), as a teenager she won a role as an extra in a film (her dad allowed it because they needed the money). She did extra roles for years until her first big role in Bits of Life in 1921. She played the wife of a Chinese man (White actor in yellowface) but they could’t kiss because it was against the law. She was disturbed by the yellowface but pressed on for the money and experience.

ShiningStar2

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

She’d continue to rise but her roles were very stereotypical and demeaning of Asian women. Anna May moved to Europe and achieved fame there but when she came back, hoping to score the lead role in The Good Earth, they gave it to…a white actress. She was fed up with discrimination and was caught between her desire to resist the racist roles AND follow her dream of acting in the US. During a trip China (she faced some criticism there for accepting stereotypical roles) to learn more about her heritage and to visit her retired parents, her spirt was renewed. Her father reminded her to always be proud of her race and fight to respectfully represent her people. She’d continue to act, but only in non-stereotypical Asian roles!

Lin Wang’s watercolor and acrylic illustrations are gorgeous. I just LOVE the way Yoo and Wang open the book; the illustration of the train rushing towards Anna May is extremely dramatic and dynamic! Wang really brings to life the glamour and grace of Anna May Wong.

What a good book! Anna May Wong isn’t as well known as she should be…The efforts she made towards improving the representation of Asian Americans in film isn’t as well known as it should be. With the current state of diversity in the film industry (not enough has changed), it’s especially important to go back and learn about those who’ve paved the way!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Girl Power, Role Model, Women’s History Month, Acting, Film Industry, Discrimination, Racism, Stereotypes, Ant-Miscegenation Laws, Diversity, Cultural Relativism, History, Film History, Asian American, Chinese American, Dreams, Family, Relationships, Discussion, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo/Illustrated by Lin Wang, 2009 Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 9781600602597

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

TalkinAboutBessie

Image Credit: Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), Nikki Grimes/E.B. Lewis

“…Bessie made me believe I could be anything.” – Young Fan

I’ve been wanting to review a book about Bessie Coleman for quite a while. I found two contenders and ultimately I chose this one over Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman. Though that book is also good, Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a stronger book in execution, creativity and memorability. It has more heart and that’s exactly what Bessie was about. I recommend Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman for younger readers.

Talkin’ About Bessie has a unique concept; 20 family members, acquaintances and friends come together after Bessie Coleman’s funeral to speak about her. Instead of a straightforward non-fiction narrative style, we get something special; reflection based on fact, crafted by author, Nikki Grimes.

Bessie grew up poor in segregated Texas, picking cotton with her many siblings. She loved numbers and words from an early age and her mom always encouraged her to read the bible. Though her father left their family  when she was young (which left her little time for childhood), she kept dreaming. When an adult, she moved to Chicago and after taking many jobs found inspiration from the blacks who ran the newspaper The Defender. She decided to go to France and get her pilots license and when she set her mind on that goal, she was determined to follow through! Bessie Coleman became the first person of African descent in the US to get an international pilot’s license and came back to the US to became an aviatrix. She wanted to encourage blacks to fly and worked towards raising funds to open a flight school for her people. Her personality was bigger than life and she was (and still is) an inspiration.

Nikki Grimes’ writing is great. The characters’ various speaking styles bring them to life. Each page has a “photo painting” in the corner  with the name of the person speaking and a gorgeous full page illustration. This is a nice design. One aspect of the book that didn’t make sense to me though was the character “Laundry Customer.” She’s a white character who employed young Bessie and her family (created by Grimes). Her words are very privileged and she makes it clear that Bessie was, from an early age, challenging and out of line for a young Negro girl. So why would she be present at Bessie’s funeral?? Though I understand the author’s desire to help us understand the segregated world Bessie lived in, it seems out of place and the other characters do a fine job of creating context for readers.

E.B. Lewis’ art is absolutely beautiful. This kind of story requires a very straightforward type of illustration that serves to compliment/enhance the words. His watercolors are meticulous and he does a great job of creating place, mood and character. I hope you’ll take the time to read this excellent book that honors Bessie Coleman’s spirit!

 

P.S. Here’s some backstory from the author Nikki Grimes! Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Womens History Month, History, Black History, African-American, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Aviation, Determination, Confidence, Inner Strength, Family, Relationships, Struggles, Segregation, Racism, Sexism, Tragedy, Role Model, Dreams, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes/Illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2002 Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780439352437