I am a meanderer in my reading. Oh sometimes, I go on a particular research bender and check out, for instance, all the short story cycles at the library so I can look at how each author constructed their particular cycle. But more often than not, I am a wanderer, responding to my daughter’s urging to read Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy or going to a friend’s book signing and reading her book immediately or pilfering my friend Anne Bustard‘s amazing collection of picture book biographies. It is the last place where I found a stunning biography of a man I didn’t know existed.
The book is The Secret World of Walter Anderson (Candlewick, 2009) by Hester Bass and Illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
Not knowing a thing, I opened the book. Here are the first words:
“There once was a man whose love of nature was as wide as the world. There once was an artist who needed to paint as much as he needed to breathe.”
This is a beginning that announces a kind of greatness.
And yet, I had not heard of this man. I was curious. I read on and together, Bass and Lewis took me into the world of this delicate artist who would wade up to his shoulders to draw a sphinx moth against a pattern of bullrushes. I travelled with him in his leaky green skiff to Horn Island. I followed him tracking the wild hogs to find fresh water on Horn Island. I shared his meals of peanut butter, apples and raisins. I sat with him in the magic hour as he drew raccoons and ducks and frogs. On one page, I watched him paint a tern who had died because even in death “they were still magnificent and because images were food for Walter Anderson, and on an island, no food is ever wasted.”
This is my kind of picture book: rich with words and story, spare and stunning moments described with just the right a mount of detail and oh the images! Hester Bass says she was born to tell this story. E.B. Lewis illustrations put me on the sand, by the water, in the bullrushes.
After I closed the book, I wanted to get in the car and drive to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I wanted to see his one room cottage which he painted floor to ceiling with images. I wanted to explore his family’s compound where they created Shearwater pottery. Then I wanted to borrow a skiff and row out to Horn Island.
Instead, I opened the book and read it again.