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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

WANDA GAG: THE GIRL WHO LIVED TO DRAW (Wanda Gag)

WANDA GAG: THE GIRL WHO LIVED TO DRAW by Deborah Kogan Ray (Viking)
Thought of as the mother of the modern picture book thanks to her scrappy 1929 tour-de-force MILLIONS OF CATS, Wanda Gag did not always have it easy, but she always had the drive to succeed. Using primary sources (as she did in TO GO SINGING THROUGH THE WORLD: THE CHILDHOOD OF PABLO NERUDA), the author captures the struggles of young Gag as she followed in the footsteps of her hardworking father. His imaginative dreams were thwarted by his need to support his family, but on his deathbed he fortells, "What Papa couldn't do, Wanda will have to finish." Most teenagers would have would have folded under the weight of caring for six young siblings and a sick mother, but the resourceful Gag not only gets her family through the hard times (two sisters became teachers!), but was published and earned a scholarship to study art in New York, where her creative genius began to truly blossom. This is a story that will truly inspire any creative spirit who encounters it, with lovely cozy-brown soft illustrations reminsicent of Don Freeman; you will have to resist pulling pictures out to frame (or maybe you don't have to resist). The story is penned with a personal touch that allows the reader to warm their own skin against the heat of Gag's passion for art ("I can't help it that I've got to draw and paint forever; I cannot stop; I cannot; cannot, CANNOT...I have a right to go on drawing...") and to genuinely revel in Gag's accomplishments, especially in the face of such hardships. By the last page, any reader would want to be friends with sweet Bohemian Wanda, and bring a basket of ginger cookies to her as she draws in "a sagging farmhouse she called 'Tumble Timbers.'" It's exciting to read about somebody who put dreams first, even when it wasn't easy to do. (7 and up)