by Deborah Kogan Ray
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Source: We Give Books
Wanda Gág (pronounced "Gog") is well known as the author and illustrator of Millions of Cats, one of the best-loved children's books ever published. But not many people know how interesting and inspiring her life was.
Following in the footsteps of her beloved artist father, Wanda led an idyllic childhood, drawing and listening to old-world fairy tales. But when her father died, it was teenage Wanda who worked hard to keep her seven younger siblings fed, clothed, and laughing. She never lost sight of her love of art, however, and her tremendous willpower won her a coveted scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City and then led to a gallery show of her artwork -- where an editor of children's books got an idea for a book. The rest, as they say, is history!
(synopsis from Goodreads)
When I was growing up, my younger sister was obsessed with cats. She had Millions of Cats (the book... not actually millions of cats), and we both read it numerous times. As an adult who dislikes cats, the premise of that book freaks me out a little bit... but the illustrations are unique and interesting, and completely different than anything that had been put out for children at the time it was written. I came across this short biography of Wanda Gág on We Give Books, so I thought I'd give it a try.
While this book is intended for a young reading audience, it doesn't talk down to kids. The story of Wanda's upbringing, subsequent hardships, and undying love for her art is an inspiring one. Taking into account the time period in question, Wanda also seems to be something of a pioneer; at a time when most working women would have been pushed into a lifelong career of teaching or nursing, she went and became a professional artist, even studying in New York City at one point!
The illustrations were nice, but nothing amazingly special. I think I would have preferred to see the story illustrated with Wanda's own works (apparently, she kept many journals and sketchbooks, so there should've been ample material to choose from). But the story is really what matters, and it is accentuated (quite effectively) with snippets of Wanda's own words.
You don't have to be familiar with Wanda Gág's work to enjoy this book, but it probably doesn't hurt. Read this one, and then check out Millions of Cats to see the book that's often considered to be the first modern picture book.
Overall: 4.4 out of 5