My favorite reading challenge in 2014 is Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. I’ve already reached my goal of reading 100 nonfiction picture books, but I don’t plan to stop!
This week, I read Dianna Hutts Aston’s Dream Something Big: The Story of the Watts Towers. Although I’ve seen photos of the Watts Towers before, that was the sum total of prior knowledge I brought to this book.
Photo CC-by Bisayan Lady (Source: Flickr)
Photo CC-by Michael Daines (Source: Flickr)
In 1921, Simon Rodia, a hard-working Italian immigrant, bought a triangular lot in Watts, California, and began sculpting the towers in his spare time. He worked for over thirty years on the project. There are seventeen structures made from scrap steel and mortar and decorated with broken glass, bits of tile, seashells, pottery shards, and many other found objects and materials Rodia (and the neighborhood children) salvaged from the street and the trash. He made the towers using no specialized equipment or even modern construction techniques.
The narrator of Aston’s story is a neighborhood child named Marguerite who observes Sam, as he’s called by his neighbors, as he works. She helps him find bits of tile, glass, and pottery for his project and describes his methods and beliefs. Aston shows the passage of time as the narrator grows up and introduces her own children to Sam.
Aston’s writing is precise and elegant; words are arranged on the page in a kind of free verse. Here is one of my favorite spreads and passages:
This page highlights what was so beautiful to me about this book: its attention to the act of creation and the necessity of dreaming big. This is a story about imagination and possibility, about dedication to a particular vision. It’s a wonderful book to share with young artists and creators–that is, with all children.
The choice of Susan L. Roth as illustrator is especially inspired. Roth’s collages capture the spirit and methods of Rodia himself, and the folk art quality of her work is the perfect complement to Rodia’s own outsider art.
The back matter includes an Author’s Note with more information about Rodia and the towers and a set of instructions for a craft project to “Create your own Watts Tower” out of pipe cleaners, beads, magazine clippings, etc.