Early Monday morning as Xena and I strolled down the neighborhood street, birdsong surrounding us like a symphony, I caught a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye. It's a rarity to see this particular shade of blue. It was all I could do not to gasp out loud.
Moving slowly is our preferred pace these days; Xena sniffing the new smells as she ambles along. Quietly I tried to get my camera ready hopeful for a picture of the allusive bluebird. Every time we got close enough, he flew farther ahead until finally vanishing into the woods.
Those glimpses were like small miracles. To know someone devoted their life to painting birds alive in their natural setting seems amazing. The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist (Two Lions, April 28, 2015) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Aliona Bereghici chronicles the life of such a man.
I love the bright wings of birds
as they fly, wild and free,
high above me.
When I watch birds in flight,
I dream of soaring too!
It began when Louis Fuertes was a young boy fascinated with birds, taking the time to care for those injured despite the lack of parental support. He even rescued a small owl. The owl in turn allowed one leg to be tied to a table so it could be sketched.
A visit to the local library opened up more possibilities in the form of a large book with bird art. By the time he was fourteen picturing birds using pen and watercolor was a passion needing practice and more practice no matter where he was. In college drawing birds was like breathing; professors might find themselves caricatured as birds.
Rather than follow in the footsteps of previous bird artists, Fuertes taught himself to paint quickly as the birds moved about him. He desired to preserve them, not hunt them. He even swam underwater to see how tails and feet functioned.
His work was noticed by others who invited him to travel from his home in New York to the northern realm of Alaska, the islands of the Caribbean, the jungles of South America and Africa painting local birds in their native habitats. He, his wife and children even entertained a loon in their bathtub so Fuertes could depict the proper details. Known to be shy, Louis Fuertes nevertheless enjoyed speaking with children encouraging them to notice and draw their own versions of birds.
The caring personality of a young child nurtured a lifelong passion. This dedication in turn ignited a national pastime of bird-watching as people looked for and used his collectible cards. He noticed so we would notice.
In a collection of fifteen poems Margarita Engle selects specific memories from the life of Louis Fuertes which characterize him. Each of these singular truths are retold through her beautiful use of words; words replicating the essence of birds. She brings us into each of these defining moments with vivid description and the voice of Louis Fuertes. Here is the last sentence from one of the poems.
like a dance
in the clouds,
a graceful ballet
of wild swans.
When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the blue-green flora and blend of cloud-filled sky showcased on the front continues to the back. Young Louis featured beneath the title on the front is an adult on the back, encased in a smaller oval frame, painting birds along a shoreline. The opening and closing endpapers are in the soft golden yellow found in Louis's shirt from the jacket and case. The introductory title text sits among birds nesting in tree tops.
With a page turn the formal title page and verso are placed in a gorgeous display of Louis Fuertes among birds across the two pages. All of the interior illustrations rendered in watercolor and ink by Aliona Bereghici span edge to edge across both pages. Soft brush strokes, fine line details and a natural color palette heighten each poem with exquisite pictures.
The use of light in all the paintings particularly on Louis's face and the realistic movements of the birds give a sense of everything bursting into life on the page at any minute. I can't imagine the hours of study it took to depict the bird images with such meticulous care. Bereghici shifts her perspective from showing us a hand holding a pencil above a sketch as the subject sits nearby to an aerial view of swans gliding across an Arctic shoreline as Louis watches from a boat.
One of my favorite visuals is of Louis Fuertes in a small boat on a river in South America. We are looking at him from above as he paints a macaw. Around him among the trees are featured parrots, macaws and a toucan. Each of these birds (all of the birds in the book) is labeled in cursive lettering on what appears to be folded ribbon. With little imagination you can hear their chatter.
How fortunate are readers to learn about this man in The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Aliona Bereghici. The words sing off the pages and the pictures take wing. Readers of all ages will be inspired to appreciate our feathered friends or draw or paint them. One person truly made a difference. We can too. I believe readers will enjoy reading the dedications and acknowledges found on the verso. At the close of the book a Historical Note provides more information about Louis Fuertes.
To discover more about Margarita Engle and Aliona Bereghici please access their websites by following the links attached to their names. You can see more of the artwork of Aliona Bereghici at her blog. Many images from this book can been seen here. An activity kit has been created. Enjoy the book trailer.
I am thrilled to be participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher each week. Please take a few moments to view the choices of the other participating bloggers.