Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 11, 2017

To Touch The Names

Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam War veteran, had a dream.  On March 26, 1982 the ground was officially broken after more than three years of tireless efforts by many like-minded people.  A dedication was held on November 13, 1982; this year, 2017, marking the 35th anniversary.  More than 275,000 individuals donated funds to contribute to the more than eight million dollars raised in the private sector to build this architectural masterpiece visited by more than three million people each year.  (Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund: Founders Of The Wall)

One gifted woman used talents honed from childhood to make this dream a reality.  Maya Lin: Artist-Architect Of Light And Lines: Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, May 2, 2017) written by Jeanne Walker Harvey with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk tells her extraordinary story.  Her singular perspectives are a beautiful blend of art and architecture.

In the woods by her childhood home, Maya Lin played with her brother and explored and climbed the many rolling hills, one she named Lizard's Back.

Nature was her sanctuary.  While in the woods she would become one with her surroundings, observing all living things.  At home the same feeling she found outside was continued inside.

Maya's creativity was allowed to flourish and her intellectual pursuits, like chess games with her brother, were encouraged.  Her parents, her father as a potter and her mother as a poet, devoted their lives to art.  By the time Maya was in college her fascination with buildings, their structure, construction materials and design, grew.  She felt a calling to seek a career in the world of architecture.

In the fall of 1980 a "blind" contest to design a memorial for the women and men who died or are missing in action from serving in the Vietnam War was entered by Maya.  She was in her senior year at Yale University.  She visited the proposed site for the memorial, envisioning how the earth would be cut creating an opening from which the memorial would rise.  The design needed to include nearly (and now more) than 58,000 names.

To her own surprise and the surprise of many others, out of 1,421 entrants, Maya's proposition was chosen.  For a variety of reasons, the design met with controversy but Maya felt strongly about the concept and stood firm in her beliefs.  Anyone today can visit The Wall formed from reflective black granite spread across land in Constitution Gardens just as Maya Lin knew it should look.  Since that time Maya Lin has envisioned and made other works of art, giving each one a name.

What author Jeanne Walker Harvey does for readers in telling Maya Lin's story is to bring us full circle by allowing us to see the world as Maya Lin did as a child and as she does today.  She presents to us, through simple sentences, how Maya's home environment and parents contributed to her mindset in making art which is an extension of the natural world.  Within those nearly poetic lines her research is evident in the details.  Here is a sample passage.

Back at school, Maya sculpted a model with mashed potatoes, then with clay.

She sketched a soft space of greens and blues.
And before mailing her entry,
she put her thoughts into an essay.

She wrote that her long, polished wall
would be a quiet place to remember
all those who died during the war.

A place to be experienced
by walking down, then up past names
that seemed to go on forever.

As you gaze at the matching, opened dust jacket and book case of this title you are transported to Washington, D. C.  You are standing next to Maya Lin as her hand reaches out to touch one of the more than 58,000 names.  The college senior is looking at her reflection in her first massive memorial, completed and waiting in silence for visitors.  You can't help but be emotionally moved by this image extending across the spine and back of the jacket and case, especially when you know Maya's story and what this memorial represents.

The opening and closing endpapers are done in the same leaf green as seen on the jacket and case, carrying the theme of Maya's love of the natural world.  On the title page is a portrait of adult Maya, looking at the reader, as she draws at her desk.  The verso and first page contain a large picture of Maya and her brother running along the top of a hill into the woods.  The hill, she named Lizard's Back, contains a faint illustration of a lizard in the green of the grass.

Delicate elements with intricate details fill the two page, single page and small images rendered by Dow Phumiruk in Adobe Photoshop with scans of watercolors and textures.  She often frames two pages with those items being discussed in the narrative; tiny towns built by Maya, ceramics fashioned by her father or small replications of her other memorials or sculputures.  The layout and design supplied by Phumiruk generate peace and calm throughout the text.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Maya is a little girl.  It spans two pages.  She is seated on a large rock in a clearing in the forest.  Tree branches and tree trunks frame the picture.  We are looking down on her as she looks up at a flying bird.  Another bird sits in a nest with babies.  A rabbit, chipmunks, squirrels and raccoons can be seen.  She is completely content; so are the woodland creatures with her presence.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect Of Light And Lines: Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial written by Jeanne Walker Harvey with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk is a lovely portrait of a remarkable woman.  Readers can't help but be inspired by Maya Lin's passion for giving her imagination the freedom it needs to explore possibilities.  You need to have a copy of this title on your professional bookshelves.  An Author's Note with additional resources concludes the book.

To discover more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and Dow Phumiruk and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  They both maintain blogs here and here.  Dow Phumiruk has an account on Instagram.  Dow Phumiruk is featured at KidLit 411.  If you visit the publisher's website you can view interior images.  This is a link to Maya Lin's website.  You will enjoy viewing some videos with Maya Lin here at Makers.  They have important things to say.

Be sure to check out the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful review!

    1. Thank YOU Dow for this lovely book. Your illustrations enhance the text wonderfully.

  2. Wonderful review - I cannot wait to read this book! Thank you.

  3. Great review. I enjoyed the book as well.

  4. I echo Dow's thanks! Such a lovely review -- it truly touched my heart.

  5. Yes, thank you so much for this wonderful review! And I agree -- Dow's illustrations are amazing!