Monday, February 11, 2008

A Parisian Hat-Trick

The last thing I have time for at the moment is this post, but I'm one who likes to tie up loose ends before I go on a trip, so thus a triple-header. The Cybils winner is chosen (sorry, I'm not divulging; in time, in time) and soon I will be making dispatches from "Make Way for Ducklings Land." For now, though, three picture books with one tie that binds: Paris.

First up, Degas and the Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt. This book was brought to my attention by one 10-year-old lucky duck who just came back from Paris (and Italy and Austria). Through the eyes of a guard at an art gallery, we learn the story behind The Little Dancer, Le Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans. This is a great introduction, not only to the sculpture, but also to Degas. The book includes some of the other images of this impressionist and provides a brief bio. of Edgar Degas at the end. Through the story of Degas and the model, Marie, we learn a bit about Degas's life, why he came to paint the dancers at the Paris Opera House, and some of the fictionalized life of the model. I was lucky enough to see this sculpture at the Musee de'Orsay a few years ago. (I guess it was one of the 20 copies made as the original apparently resides in the Louvre -- although the gallery shown in this book sure looks like that in Musee de'Orsay).

This book is one a series by Anholt, where he tells the story behind certain paintings. Other titles include: Camille and the Sunflowers (van Gogh), Picasso and the Girl with the Pony Tail, and Leonardo and the Flying Boy. I'll be checking those out too.

Next up, Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything! (An Adventure in Paris) by Scott Magoon. Poor Hugo, an elephant from Cornville, has run out of things to paint. His friend Miles has a solution -- they need to shake things up a bit with a road, er, plane, trip. So, off they go to Paris. "They spend days exploring the whole city." We see them outside Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, the Arc de Tiomphe, and, of course, inside the many galleries. Here, Hugo finds inspiration. He will make large paintings ("Hugo-mongous"), he will paint in a solid colour ("Hue-Go"), he will paint "an impression of how he feels" ("Van Hugo"), etc. Hugo just needs to look at the world in a different way and his trip to Paris helps him do just that. A fun tale and a nice introduction to different artistic styles and takes on life. (Hmmm, I'm feeling a little narrow in my perspective on the world too. Me thinks I need to take a plane ride...!) Here's a review from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

And, finally, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. Phew, what a fabulous book with absolutely stunning art. No wonder this won the Caldecott medal in 2004. Here we have the story of Philippe Petit, a New York street performer who decided one day to walk a tightrope between the Twin Towers. (Can you just imagine that breakfast conversation? "Morning honey, what are you doing today?" "Oh, you know, I thought I'd haul 440 pounds of cable up the Twin Towers, use a bow and arrow to string it between the two and walk across it." "That's nice dear.") Petit had performed a similar feat once before -- in Paris between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral (thus, my Paris connecton), but the Twin Towers was another thing altogether. Of course the feat/stunt was illegal and he knew he would never get permission to do it. So, with friends, subterfuge, and more nerve than I can even begin to imagine, he manages to get the wire up and to walk across it. The true story is fabulous enough, but Gerstein manages to pare it down perfectly for a picture book. His art is constantly shifting perspective from a close-up showing the thickness of the wire between Petit's fingers, to the mind-wobbling view of the streets of New York with his foot on the wire in the foreground. I could go on; this is a wonder. Here's a review from Wendy Lukeheart, published in the School Library Journal, that says it better than I ever could.

As this story opens, French funambulist Philippe Petit is dancing across a tightrope tied between two trees to the delight of the passersby in Lower Manhattan.
Gerstein places him in the middle of a balancing act, framed by the two unfinished World Trade Center towers when the idea hits:
"He looked not at the towers, but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope".

On August 7, 1974, Petit and three friends, posing as construction workers began their evening ascent from the elevators to the remaining stairs with a 440 pound cable and equipment, prepared to carry out their clever but dangerous scheme to secure the wire.
The pacing of the narrative is as masterful as the placement and quality of the oil and ink paintings. The interplay of a single sentence or view with a sequence of thoughts on panels builds to a riveting climax.
A small, framed close-up of Petit's foot on the wire yields to two three-page fold-outs of the walk. One captures his progress from above, the other from the perspective of a pedestrian.
The vertiginous views paint the New York skyline in twinkling starlight and at breathtaking sunrise.

Gerstein captures his subject's incredible determination, profound skill, and sheer joy.
The final scene depicts transparent, cloud-filled skyscrapers, a man in their midst. With its graceful majesty and mythic overtones, this unique and uplifting book is at once a portrait of a larger-than-life individual and a memorial to the towers and the lives associated with them.


- Wendy Lukehart, Washington D.C Public Library

1 comment:

Fiona said...

Bon Voyage!

And when you get back, I hope you're game for some blog tag, because I've just tagged you to post a list of Five Random Things about yourself. Check out my blog entry about it for more info: http://fbayrock.blogspot.com/2008/02/five-random-things-about-me.html