Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!
The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
Author: Margarita Engle
Illustrator: Aliona Bereghici
Published April 28th, 2015 by Two Lions
Goodreads Summary: Louis loves to watch birds. He takes care of injured birds and studies how they look and how they move. His father wants him to become an engineer, but Louis dreams of being a bird artist. To achieve this dream, he must practice, practice, practice. He learns from the art of John James Audubon. But as Louis grows up, he begins to draw and paint living, flying birds in their natural habitats.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927) is now known as the father of modern bird art. He traveled with many scientific expeditions all over the world. His best-known works—paintings for habitat exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York—are still beloved by visitors today. His art helped to encourage wildlife conservation, inspiring people to celebrate and protect the world of wings.
Poems by Newbery Honor–winning author Margarita Engle and illustrations by Aliona Bereghici capture the life of Louis Fuertes and the deep sense of wonder that he felt when he painted the sky.
About the Author: Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include The Poet Slave of Cuba, winner of the Pura Belpré Award for narrative and the Américas Award; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book; Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, a Kirkus Best Book for Children; and The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, winner of the 2014 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult/Children’s Literature. Margarita lives in California, where she enjoys bird-watching and helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search-and-rescue dog training programs. To learn more, and to download a free activity kit for The Sky Painter, visit: www.margaritaengle.com
Kellee’s Review: Louis Fuertes is an inspirational man, and Engle’s biography of him is perfect. I think what I enjoyed most was how Fuertes was not only an artist, but an animal activist, family man, and educator. He is a role model for any kid that wants to grow up to be happy. Like Ricki shares below, this book shares an important lesson about how there are so many different special things out there to be observed. Nature is phenomenal.
I loved learning not only of Fuertes and his journey to live his passion, I loved the beautiful poetry and watercolor that were used to craft his story. Both the poetry and the artwork do Fuertes’s story justice like no other format would have. The format also gives the reader a chance to look at each poem as a stand alone and also part of the whole biography which gives each poem two different purposes and two different ways they can be analyzed.
Ricki’s Review: Louis Fuertes is a remarkable man, and this book not only pays homage to his extraordinary life, but it teaches young people important lessons. He nurtures and cares for birds in ways that children can emulate in many aspects of their lives. The book shows he devoted his life to birds and wanted others to see their beauty. I’ve seen Fuertes’ artwork in a variety of places, but I never considered him as an artist. This book reminded me that sometimes I go about life, not considering something very important and special. I am so glad I learned about Fuertes’ story and will think about him whenever I read or learn about birds. This book would be an excellent gift to give to a child. The poetry is gorgeous, and the illustrations are breath-taking.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As a teacher, we can think of a plethora of ways to use this text in the classroom. We love to offer our students options, so we might provide them opportunities to read different biographies of different people who are following their passion. Students the could get in lit circles to discuss the biography then come back together to share what they learned. They could also choose any artist or person in history and write poems reflecting this individual’s biography. It would be fun to illustrate and bind these books to share them with others. We can imagine a class sitting in a circle, reading their poetry and learning about lesser-known individuals in history.
Discussion Questions: How did Fuertes change animal painting/drawing forever?; How do you feel that some artists kill animals to draw or paint them?; How did following his passions help make Fueres’s life happier?
Interview with Margarita Engle
Unleashing Readers: What inspired you to write about Fuertes?
Margarita Engle: I became fascinated by Fuertes while I was researching rain forest ecology and visiting wildlife preserves, during the process of writing a historical verse novel called Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal. In many references, Fuertes was mentioned as the bird artist for all the great geographic expeditions of the early twentieth century. When I learned that he was a conservationist who pioneered the painting of living birds in flight—instead of killing and posing them like Audubon—I was astonished. Why wasn’t he a household name, like Audubon? Instantly, Fuertes became the most important link in my ongoing quest for biographical picture books about great Latino naturalists who have been forgotten by history. I hope The Sky Painter helps teachers, librarians, and parents introduce children from all backgrounds to this amazing Puerto Rican/American scientist. Fuertes is a fantastic role model because he was a creative thinker who decided to learn how to paint faster, to save the lives of birds.
UR: What did your research process look like? Do you have any recommendations for students who are doing research?
ME: I try to read every book I can find, in addition to online sources. Many historical studies simply have not yet been digitized, so interlibrary loan is really helpful. I rely on bibliographies to help me move farther and farther back in time, until I discover first person narratives. Diaries, letters, field notes, etc. are incredibly helpful. Fortunately, Fuertes and the scientists he worked with on expeditions recorded fascinating details!
UR: Was there any information that you found interesting that you decided not to include in the book?
ME: Yes, because this book is for young children, I decided not to include the tragic way he died. Soon after he returned from his expedition to Africa, he was driving to show new paintings to another ornithologist. His car was hit by a train. The paintings survived, but he did not.
UR: Because we are a blog devoted to teachers, do you have any ideas about how you envision your book in classrooms?
ME: The Sky Painter can fit into science, art, poetry, or multicultural programs. One of the really clever cartoon exercises Fuertes taught children who visited his studio was simply sketching three circles, then deciding how to connect them. Two circles could become arms or wings, depending on how they’re connected. One circle is always the head. Children decide whether to create a person, a bird, or some sort of funny hybrid.
For older children, I think The Sky Painter can also be used to teach history, if a teacher discusses the way important accomplishments are sometimes omitted from textbooks. Because there’s a tendency for each generation of textbooks to include material from past editions, incredibly important topics may be gradually forgotten.
Fuertes was not only a great artist and scientist, he was also a groundbreaking conservationist. It would make me very happy to see The Sky Painter featured during Hispanic Heritage Month in September–October, as well as on Earth Day, which happens to fall during National Poetry Month in April. It would be especially thrilling to see The Sky Painter used by a teacher preparing students for a field trip, whether it’s a video or a virtual trip on a nature website, an outdoor nature walk on the school-grounds, a walk in a nearby park, or a visit to the Natural History Museum in New York to see the murals Fuertes painted as backgrounds for habitat displays. The possibilities are incredible!
Perhaps most important, The Sky Painter can be used to teach about creative thinking. Are there old attitudes we might try changing—just as Fuertes did—to promote conservation of wildlife and natural habitats?
Read This If You Loved: Feathers: Not Just For Flying by Melissa Stewart, A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, Manfish by Jennifer Berne, Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
Mon, Apr 20
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Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Apr 22
Thurs, Apr 23
5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Apr 24
Teach Mentor Texts
Sat, Apr 25
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Tues, Apr 28
The Children’s Book Review
Wed, Apr 29
Cracking the Cover
Thurs, Apr 30
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Fri, May 1
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Margarita Engle for the interview and providing a copy for review!**