Book review: The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York, by Peter J. Tomasi, illustrated by Sara Duvall

Tomasi, Peter J. The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York. Illus. Sara Duvall. Abrams, 2018. $24.99. 201p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2852-5. Ages 8-13. P8Q9

Much more than an explanation of how the Brooklyn Bridge was built, this graphic narrative also deals with personal relationships, political problems, and restrictions on women in the 19th century. The story begins with the childhood of Washington Roebling, son of a German immigrant, and his inventive nature that led to creating pontoons during the Civil War when he was a soldier. The building of the longest suspension bridge in the world was marked by tragedy: the designer, John Augustus Roebling, died before construction began; his 32-year-old son and instigator of the bridge, Washington, was left to finish the massive structure. Washington became largely bedridden after he developed caisson disease (aka the “bends”) which left his wife, Emily, to manage the work site for the final eleven years of the fourteen-year construction period while her husband watched from the apartment through a powerful telescope. Yet she persisted, despite the objections of the press and politicians who believed that a woman should not be in this position. The fourteen years starting in 1869 were marked by corruption, fraud, deadly accidents, and other adversities, but Washington and Emily lived to cross the bridge.

Verdict: A bonus to the information about building is the personal aspect of a married couple’s collaboration as Tomasi brings Emily out of the shadows to become a valued part of the relationship and work. The crisp, colorful illustrations by a debut graphic novel illustrator quickly move the experiences of those who people this story behind the building of an icon. Highly recommended.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

Quintero, Isabel. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. Illus. by Zeke Peña. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. $19.95. 95p. ISBN 978-1-947440-00-5. Ages 13+. P7Q8

In this graphic biography, black and white drawings with digitally-added grays are combined with the author’s brief poetic narratives to each chronological section and over two-dozen of Iturbide’s unstaged feminist—and sometimes disturbing—photographs. As a child, Iturbide tried to follow the traditional lifestyle of her conservative Catholic family in Mexico, but her drive to be a writer and the loss of her daughter led her to photography. She travelled the world, engaging with diverse cultures as the book follows her for over 50 years. A common theme pervading the book comes from the use of birds, frequently appearing in backgrounds apart from the graphic panels.

Verdict: This startling look at indigenous communities through the eyes of an artist who experiences them can engender discussions and shifts in critical perspectives.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by 25 artists

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero. [Ordinary People Change the World series]. Illus. by 25 artists. Dial, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-525-55272-7. Ages 8-11. P6Q7

Meltzer has taken his mediocre book about Gandhi, I Am Gandhi, and made it into a graphic narrative with the help of 25 different artists. The language expands the first book as Meltzer follows the life of the Indian man who developed a strategy of peaceful protesting during his 23 years in South Africa before he returned to India to lead a nonviolent revolution intended to free his country from British rule. The book covers key events in Gandhi’s life—his training as a lawyer, the Salt March to the ocean because the British forced Indians to buy the salt they produced, the British massacre of striking Indians, his fasts, and his years in prison. Proceeds to the book’s creators go to Seeds of Peace.

Verdict: Most of the artists’ illustrations work together well, but the narrative is disturbed by a young boy who frequently pops up and shouts, “Truth Force.” Because of the similarity of the books’ names, buyers should be sure to purchase the one with the subtitle, A Graphic Biography of a Hero. 

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Life and Times of Martin Luther, by Meike Roth-Beck, illustrated by Klaus Ensikat, translated by Laura Watkinson

Roth-Beck, Meike. The Life and Times of Martin Luther. Illus. Klaus Ensikat; trans. by Laura Watkinson. Eerdmans, 2015, 2017. $18.00. 43p. ISBN 978-0-8028-5495-7. Ages 8-10. P5Q7

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther turned Christian religion upside down when the German theology professor taught people that they did not have to earn God’s love by giving money to the church and nailed his 95 ideas, or “theses,” to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg. Forced into hiding by a sentence to death, Luther used his time in hiding to translate the Bible into German before he married a nun who learned from Luther’s writings that she could choose to leave the convent. Roth-Beck chronologically follows Luther’s life and his development of the Protestant Reformation.

Verdict: The best part of the book are the intricate, largely historically accurate illustrations that look like etchings and are based on portraits of people highlighted and places in Luther’s life. The biography, somewhat dry, leans heavily on religion, not always explaining terms for younger readers, and slows down for the ten pages that explain several of the theses.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer, by Sarah B. Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirthamby

Pomeroy, Sarah B. and Jeyaraney Kathirthamby. Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer. J. Paul Getty Museum/Abrams, 2018. $21.95. 96p. ISBN 978-1-947-44001-2. Ages 10-16. P7Q9

Merian’s activities would be remarkable for the world of today, but she began her discoveries of butterfly metamorphosis in 1660 at the age of 13 and continued her scientific discoveries for 51 years until she died at the age of 64. In between, she sold her paintings for a trip to Dutch Surinam, off the coast of South America, where she traveled in 1699 and stayed for two years when she became ill. Merian did all this almost a half century before Carl Linaeus created his classification of species and two centuries before Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The many colored reproductions of Merian’s work in the book are supplemented by an introductory map of the world, paintings and etchings of Merian’s Amsterdam, and some paintings by Merian’s two daughters. Because women were not allowed to have formal education in art at that time, Merian learned from her father and stepfather.

Verdict: This book gives an excellent view of the 17th century German entomologist and artist with many of her exquisite, detailed paintings of insects, spiders, and frogs, bats, and other small creatures. Highlighted are her independent thinking and curiosity about the world around her that results in a different perspective of nature. An excellent follow-up to Joyce Sidman’s book for younger readers about Merian, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies. 

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Rosa’s Animals: The Story of Rosa Bonheur and Her Painting Menagerie, by Maryann MacDonald

MacDonald, Maryann. Rosa’s Animals: The Story of Rosa Bonheur and Her Painting Menagerie. Abrams, 2018. $21.99. 64p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2850-1. Ages 9-13. P7Q9

Bonheur’s life spanned almost the entire 19th century, a time when women struggled to make their way in the art world. She had no formal art education, but her father, a Realist painter, trained her. Her work paid off when the Salon de Paris accepted her work, making her well-known. With her fascination in painting animals, she obtained a permit to wear slacks for her visits to a slaughterhouse to study anatomy. Her eccentricity was manifested in her pets—three lions—and such celebrities as Empress Eugenie visited her home with husband Louis Napoleon when Bonheur was the first woman to be awarded the Legion of Honor.

Verdict: Particularly fascinating are the discussions of Bonheur’s technique and accomplishments accompanied by a variety of art reproductions from Bonheur and her father and peers. Other bonuses are photographs and drawings of the time. Daubs of paint on a canvas-style background make the layout inviting. A remarkable look at an important artist and the time in which she lived.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, by Lita Judge

Judge, Lita. Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein. Roaring Brook, 2018. $21.99. 312p. ISBN 978-1-62672-500-3. Ages 13+. P9Q9

Born in 1797, Mary Godwin led a happy life with her philosopher anarchist father and older sister Fanny after the death of her feminist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, until her father marries a grim, cruel woman who makes Mary’s life miserable. At the age of 15, Mary spends two peaceful years with friends of her father in Scotland but is forced back home again into the same situation she left. She begins a romance with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the couple runs away with Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont to travel Europe. Judge fictionalizes Mary’s words in free verse as she struggles through pregnancies and temporary loss of Shelley’s love to her stepsister. During her first few years with Shelley, the teenage girl wrote her famous book about Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, sewn from cadaver parts and brought to “life” with electricity. The monster finishes Judge’s tale: “Her spirit whispers eternally through me.” Brief biographies of people in the book and a bibliography are at the end of the book.

Verdict: The charcoal-style black and white watercolor wash highlights the Gothic atmosphere of Mary Shelley’s early life and tragic relationships that made her an outcast in the early 1800s. Young readers will wallow in the sordid, dismal details in this part romance and part thriller about Shelley’s life and her struggles with writing and publishing a book in a time that lacked any rights for women.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.