CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
Ian Wallace is an amazingly versatile and prolific artist, honored across North America for his work as a writer and illustrator of picture books. Boy of the Deeps, his gripping story of a young boy working in the coal mines of Nova Scotia early in the last century was a Smithsonian Notable Book as well as an IBBY Honor Book in 1999. Wallace's picture books bring to life people and places across Canada, from Newfoundland (the setting for Duncan's Way published in 2000) to the Yukon, where his latest picture book, The True Story of Trapper Jack's Left Big Toe, takes place. The artist says that he shares a perspective with Maurice Sendak, that of the double vision of author/illustrator. In his latest picture book, The Naked Lady, Wallace tells readers how the acquisition of that unique perspective began.
The story is narrated by young Tom who lives on the family farm where his father grows corn and soybeans. One summer, the family notices that someone has moved into the farm next door which has been vacant and neglected for many years. In a typical country-style welcome, Tom is sent next door with a fresh raspberry pie for the new neighbour.
This surprising encounter begins the friendship between a farm boy and a lonely sculptor. Tom soon finds out just how talented and original Pieter is when he and his father are asked to help with the planting. Instead of seed, they find a barn full of giant sculptures made of wood and stone and metal. Later in the story, Pieter tells Tom that the model for the beautiful "naked lady" sculpture is his wife Angelina who has recently died. Standing out in the snow one morning, surrounded by Pieter's amazing crop of sculptures, Tom has an epiphany: "I realized something I hadn't fully understood before. Pieter had lit a fire inside me. I wanted to be an artist, too." In an endnote, the author lets the reader know that the story just read is indeed his own and finishes by dedicating The Naked Lady (his nineteenth picture book!) to Pieter, his first art teacher.
Wallace's bold and richly detailed paintings bring the characters and landscape of The Naked Lady vividly to life. The statue of Pieter's wife (appearing in side and back view) is as modest and non-erotic as any teacher might wish for. Nevertheless, a discussion of sculptors and the artistic representation of the nude body should probably precede a read-aloud session. The Naked Lady is rich with themes of friendship, artistic, inspiration and growing up. It will be a valuable addition to an elementary or middle school picture book collections.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.