It's an art form dating back thousands of years even before the fateful contest between the goddess and mortal. Weaving is found in cultures throughout the world; a time-consuming process, the amount of hours determined by the talent of the weaver and the intricacies found in the final fabric. Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life Of Louise Bourgeois (Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 1, 2016) written by Amy Novesky with pictures by Isabelle Arsenault is a beautiful portrait of a larger-than-life creative force.
Louise was raised by a river.
Her family had a large home next to the waters, using them to grow large floral and vegetable gardens. Often Louise and her sister or brother would spend hours, even after dark, in a tent in those gardens. The river assisted in the family's business of repairing ancient tapestries. The wool responded to the properties of the elements in the water.
Louise's mother, her Maman, was a gifted weaver, the talent passed from generation to generation. By the time she was twelve Louise could assist in the mending of the cloths. At her mother's side she learned about the terms and tools of weaving as well as the ingredients used to create certain dyes.
Her father was in and out of her life, a man unlike her mother, her best friend. When she was old enough Louise left to study in Paris. Her focus of study was originally on mathematics but the death of her mother changed everything for Louise. The young woman turned to art even making a gigantic spider
of bronze, steel, and marble she named Maman.
Louise worked in all kinds of mediums expressing her view of the world through art but in her later years she turned to textiles. All the bits and pieces of her life were remade in threads and cloth. She, like her mother, fashioned wondrous visions.
The words written by Amy Novesky do indeed read like a lullaby. Carefully chosen they make reference to the aspects of a river, weaving, webs and spiders, intertwined throughout her narrative. Each portion is like a poetic interlude. Here is a sample passage.
She loved to work in the warm sun, her needle rising and falling beside the lilting river, perfect, delicate spiderwebs glinting with caught drops of water above her.
The opened book case acquaints readers with the color palette adopted by Isabelle Arsenault, the warm reds, bright blue and shades of cream. To the left, on the back, the text and images normally found on the front and back flaps of a dust jacket are displayed. The opening and closing endpapers are a swirl of brush strokes in blues varying in intensity.
Rendered in ink, pencil, pastel, watercolor, and Photoshop the illustrations are a celebration and enhancement of the work of Louise Bourgeois and the words of Amy Novesky. The heavier matte-finished paper adds to the tactile experience for readers. Arsenault's images spanning two pages are marvelous, crossing the gutter like the flowing river or the woven threads of a cloth. Her single page pictures come at defining moments in Louise's life asking us stop a bit and think.
The delicate lines, soft colors, design and layout are exquisite, a visual splendor. When portraying Louise and the people in her life, Arsenault infuses them with animation depicting an unmistakable emotion. The love Louise's mother has for her weaving and the love Louise has for mother are clearly evident in one particular picture.
One of my favorite illustrations is across two pages. On the right are ornate floral patterns in red and blue beneath the text. Under them are woven strands of red and blue, some more completed than others. The most finished of the three crosses the gutter to the right becoming a piece worked on by Louise's mother. She is seated in a chair near the river on a sunny day, the sun depicted like striped rays on the underside of an umbrella. Her head is bent to the work in her lap, fingers sewing with a needle and thread.
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life Of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky with pictures by Isabelle Arsenault is an eloquent story in text and images, a reflection of the artist they represent. Works of nonfiction such as this book inspire and welcome readers to follow their expressive pursuits. This beautiful book should find a place in your personal and professional collections. An author's note with two realistic photographs concludes the book along with a list of quotes and sources.
To learn more about Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Additional interior images can be viewed at the publisher's website and at an article in the Children's books section of The Guardian. TeachingBooks.net has pronunciations of Amy Novesky's name and Isabelle Arsenault's name.
I am posting my selection for the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge a day early due to a prior commitment but be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher on Wednesday April 27, 2016 to view the other selections by bloggers.