“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Secret Life of Walter Anderson • Nonfiction picture book

The Secret Life of Walter Anderson
Hester Bass illustrated by E. B. Lewis
September 2009
Candlewick Press Nonfiction picture book Ages 6 - 10
Enter the fascinating world of reclusive nature-lover Walter Anderson -- perhaps the most famous American artist you've never heard of.

There was once an artist who braved storms, mosquitoes, alligators, and more to speak the language of nature in pencil and paint. His name was Walter Anderson. Residents along the Mississippi Gulf Coast thought he was odd, rowing across twelve miles of open water in a leaky skiff to reach Horn, an uninhabited island without running water or electricity. But this solitary artist didn't much care what they thought as he spent weeks at a time on his personal paradise, sleeping under his boat, sometimes eating whatever washed ashore, sketching and painting the natural surroundings and the animals that became his friends. Here Walter created some of his most brilliant watercolors, work he kept hidden during his lifetime. In a beautifully crafted picture book biography, writer Hester Bass and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis pay homage to an uncompromising American artist.

Story behind the story: Hester Bass has been enchanted by Walter Anderson's work for over 25 years, and after Hurricane Katrina threatened to destroy so much of his cultural legacy, she felt compelled to share his story:

For me, I especially admire the way Anderson seemed to depict life as well as the likeness of his subjects. His paintings resonate like a chord, a sympathetic string vibrating with the interconnectedness of all living things. I find his art and writings, like nature itself, endlessly refreshing. My hope is that others will too. -- Hester

"A gorgeous chronicle of a versatile Southern American artist... Superb..." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.


Aubrey Heusser, Logos Academy said...

This is a great story, told in a way that doesn't talk down to children, and beautifully illustrated. It is well written, with a ton of detail and just a little suspense. The pictures are very detailed without being cluttered, with a very impressionist feel that I think the subject would have liked. The ONLY complaint I could think of is that the word choice is sometimes a little overly dramatic.

The biography that follows the story is a great bridge for older kids who want more than just the picture book. It's great to see actual photos in this section.

I can see this becoming a favorite with 4-8 year olds, even the ones who think they're too big for picture books. It's probably too wordy for younger preschoolers, but they'll like the pictures.

I give this book a 4 - expecting it will be requested over and over.

Lisa Kennedy said...

I came home from school today to a most glorious surprise. "The Secret World of Walter Anderson" was waiting on my doorstep. When I opened the book I was thrilled to learn of the most famous artist I never heard of. The text, the art, and the story are captivating. I am so anxious to add it to our media center. It will not be long before I explore other books about Walter Anderson and books illustrated by him. The "Secret World of Walter Anderson" should be shared with all art enthusiasts, environmentalists, Southerners, and the world. This is a book that deserves a "10" but because a "5" is the highest rating I shall defer to the rules of The Picnic Basket. Please take time to educate yourself and your students to the wonders of Walter Anderson's life and art. I adore this book!

Anonymous said...

The Secret World of Walter Anderson was just a pleasure to read. Having known nothing about the artist before reading the book, I was left wanting to know more. I was pleased with the author's notes at the end of the book that gave me more information on the artist. I believe older students will also like that, especailly if they have limited background information about the man.

The illustrations are in one word "breathtaking" and they made the book for me. The bananas on the beach was a personal favorite.

I give this book a 5 and will certainly be sharing it with my own children and the students in my class. Well done Hestser Bass!!

Melanie T., Community Collge Librarian said...

I was thrilled when I saw that a Mississippi-related book was up for review on The Picnic Basket. I am a relative newcomer to Mississippi, and though I had heard reference to the name Walter Anderson many times, I didn't know much about him.

Bass does an excellent job of presenting insights into Anderson's life and personality while at the same time weaving all these little details into a coherent storyline. Illustrator E. B. Lewis uses broad brushstrokes and subdued colors that convey the serenity that art and nature brought to Anderson’s life.

I would give this book a rating of four. My one reservation is that the last page of the story turned a bit philosophical, didactic, and forced, and could have been left out entirely. This book would work well in upper elementary school classrooms, but teens and adults will also enjoy it. Includes extended biographical notes about the author, as well as samples of his artwork and a selected bibliography.

Jane Wellman-Little said...

E.B. Lewis' watercolor illustrations are nothing short of amazing! Beautifully created end papers evoke thoughtful reflection about the mysteries of an open ocean. Lewis is masterful in his ability to capture the look and feel of daylight moving into night as he creates the detailed environments that Anderson explored. It is a must-see book!
Bass creates an engaging story that at times strays from nonfiction into fiction by noting, for example, that the "sun was still sleeping" and becomes a bit confusing when she writes "He didn't let anyone in there-maybe a possum or mouse, but not his wife or children." The Author's Note is outstanding in its content and clarity. It gives a detailed chronological account of W. A. life, and the devastation that Hurricane Katrina created on Shearwater. She ends her Note by telling the reader she is donating a portion of her proceeds to help the Anderson family conserve his artwork. Her Selected Bibliography will support the young reader and adult in learning more about Anderson's life and art. Overall, I would rate the book a 4. Many conversations could be held discussing the man, his art, qualities of nonfiction, and more...

EShay said...

I had never heard of Walter Anderson, I am ashamed to say. He had such an interesting story and it was so nice to see the portion at the end that explained more about his life.
The illustrations in the book are beautiful, as are the pictures of Anderson's artwork.
Some words were a bit advanced for ages 6-10 and it didn't give off the feeling of a nonfiction book, when it goes into his thoughts and feelings. If he was so private, I wonder how the author could know those things.
Therefore, I give it a 4.

Mrs. Stearns said...

The 'Secret World of Walter Anderson' is an amazing book. The first page of the text says, " He may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of." How true. The text is well written and the illustrations are amazing. This book will be a great addition to any collection. Anderson's appreciation of nature and his reverence for all living things shine through the story line. The illustrations really do extend the text and give the reader a hunger for more information on the man and his art. I know this book will become one of my favorites and I hope to share it with many children in the years to come.

Heather Hill said...

The Secret World of Walter Anderson is not a traditional biography. It is told through the lense of his passion for his art. The illustrations further pull you into the story so that you can easily imagine why he was so enthralled with nature.

I found the Author's Note (a more extensive and detailed biography of Walter's life) even more interesting, as an adult, because I had never heard of Walter Anderson.

I think the book could easily be used in an art class in a variety of ways. I am planning to use the book when we talk about biographies.

I give the book a 4.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Laura _SPED Teacher said...

I love that this story couples the traditional biography with pictures. It is a great tool to really help the book come alive to the children. The details in this story were amazing and realy helped the reader hold and on and want to read more.

Sandra Stiles said...

This was a beautifully illustrated book. I had never heard of Walter Amderson before this book. You could feel the message the author was trying to get across that the painter wanted to create the feeling of being one with nature. You could tell how much he loved it. It was a great way to introduce art to children. The fact that he dealt with many mediums means this book would appeal to many people. I think upper elementary students will really like it. I would rate this book a 5 and can't wait to share it with students at school. That is after I have shared it with our art teacher.

Mary said...

This is an awesome story! I had never heard of Walter Anderson and it was interesting to read about him. The pictures are so detailed and interesting - this would be a great book to use at the beginning of a Caldecott unit - to introduce beautiful pictures.

The biography at the end of the book is informative for teachers/parents/students to help understand who Walter Anderson was.

I would definitely recommend this book!

Linda said...

Sometimes a book "speaks to you". You want to hold it with special care opening each page gently and carefully. It is a story that celebrates the uniqueness in each of us. It reminded me of A Beautiful Mind-a person so brilliant yet tortured. Usually the afterword is just that...words. Even the afterword in the book was written with passion and insight. This is definitely a 5 and then some. It is a book that appeals to all ages and should be a requirement for art teachers to read.

loonyhiker said...

I have to honestly say that I loved this book! I had never heard of this artist and this book made me wanting to learn more about him. The story was simple and appealing and the illustrations were delightful. It is a great book for elementary school students and would cover a multitude of topics. Topics could include art, geography, nature, environment, mental illness, animals, survival, The vocabulary was rich and inviting. Also included was the author’s note that told more about Walter Anderson as well as the author’s connection to the artist. I would highly recommend this to teachers, parents, and children. On the Picnic Basket scale, this book definitely rates a 5.

Pat Hensley
Educational Consultant
Greenville, SC

Anonymous said...

This book is fantastic. The story is as great as the illustrations. I rate it a 5 and expect it to be a top favorite for all.

Anonymous said...

I found this book to be a very nice read as well as a visual insperation. After reading the story of Walter Anderson I have ordered books that he has illistrated to use with this story. They were hard to locate because the local libraries did not have them.
We teach our students it is so important to visualize when you are reading. I can use the biography of Walter Anderson to have many discussions about visualizing your life and putting words to pictures.
This is another 5 in my picnic basket. I also will share this book with the art teacher, so that she can use it in her classes.
Consultant teacher

Hannah said...

I feel children will enjoy The Secret World of Walter Anderson. His animal friends will entertain them and the illustrations will hold their attention. I try to teach students to be careful observers in our science work, and this book could be used to reinforce that idea, as Walter carefully observed the nature around him. The book also presents an artist who is accessible to children in that he sat outside and worked as they sometimes do.

Rating: 4

juli said...

Indeed Walter Anderson is truly one of the great American artists that I had never heard of before reading this beautiful book. Mr. Anderson's story is told thoughtfully by Ms. Bass with brilliant detail and sincerity. E. B. Lewis is one of my favorite artists and book illustrator and I was pleased to see his name on the cover as soon as I opened the package. His paintings certainly portray the story of Walter Anderson with great respect.

I was so excited to share this book with the art teacher at my school and I intend to spend a little more time learning about Walter Anderson.

Thanks for this touching story and it will be a great addition to our classroom library. Maybe our next generation will grow up knowing the story of Walter Anderson and continue to share it for generations to come.

My rating: 5

SunshineFamily said...

Great starter for an arts integrated science unit. It covers aspects of nature tied in with the passion of the artist. The artist's work at the end of the book brought oohs and ahhs from the listeners. Many sat in disbelief that the story they heard was of a real artist.

I found the writing engaging, not just by my own experience but how the children listened.

Tina's Blog said...

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass is a beautifully illustrated, lyrically written biography of a little known artist. Anderson, born in 1903, loved both nature and art and was able to make the two converge as he painted his natural surroudings and wrote poetry. Living along the Mississippi Gulf Coast Anderson had many opportunities to create art from his surroundings. Discussed in the end notes, Anderson must have suffered from form of mental illness or depression. At one point he moves away from his family, never again living together with his wife and children. The one thing he found helped him keep his sanity was his ability to make art. When Anderson was able to create, he felt better. Anderson died in 1965 at the age of sixty two from lung cancer. In 1991 a museum was established to showcase Anderson's work and in 2003 the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, honored Anderson. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and many of Anderson's works were ruined. Some have been restored, and the Anderson family has vowed to carry on.

The illustrations by E.B. Lewis are beautiful, soft watercolors. I also enjoyed learning about Anderson and his work. Art teachers could find ways to use this selection as well as classroom teachers. This is a beautiful biography. Click here to visit the Walter Anderson Museum website.
Rating 4.5/5

Martine Battista said...

The biography at the end is the best part. I am so glad that photos of his work are shown, especially the Little Room. I think this book would work best with older children since mental illness is so prevalent. It would be great to use in an art class or as a companion to a Van Gogh study. His illness is not identified. I think a glimpse into his diagnosis would have helped the story since kids will have questions.
I give this book a 4.

Denair Elementary School Library
Denair, CA

Monica Wilson said...

I enjoyed reading The Secret World of Walter Anderson, as well as looking at the beautiful illustrations. Any child interested in art or animals (which covers most children) will love reading/listening to this story. Walter obviously had a respect and awe for nature which is a tremendous trait to pass on to children.
I would rate this book a 4 in my picnic basket

Stoneridge Library
Roseville, CA

Dawn said...

Rating: 4

One look at the illustrations and I loved this book. The watercolors are cool and earthy which set the scene for Walter Anderson’s life. The story of his eccentrically chosen life illustrate the love for his calling in life, painting. After finishing the book, I wanted so much to see more of the artist’s work. There are only a few captures of what Walter Anderson’s style was like and it left me wanting more. As much as I enjoyed this book, I don’t see kids responding the same way. I recommend this book for art lovers, art teachers and other teachers who would like to bring a variety of biographies into their collections. As an artist (who may return to it one day) and qualified art teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed the man I had never heard of.

I don’t expect high traffic on this book in the school library, so my intent is to donate it to the art teacher so that he may share it in a way that it needs to be explored.

Dawn VanLerberghe
Baraga Area Schools
Baraga, MI

Peaceful Reader said...

In my mailbox at school I had a large manila envelope from Random House,waiting for me the other day!! I was pretty excited to get something other than junk mail and when I opened it a beautiful book fell out. I deliver here the story line from Random House's website.

The secret world of Walter Anderson (Sept. 8, 2009)

Enter the fascinating world of reclusive nature-lover Walter Anderson — perhaps the most famous American artist you’ve never heard of.Residents along the Mississippi Gulf Coast thought Walter Anderson was odd, rowing across twelve miles of open water in a leaky skiff to reach Horn, an uninhabited island without running water or electricity. But this solitary artist didn’t much care what they thought as he spent weeks at a time on his personal paradise, sleeping under his boat, sometimes eating whatever washed ashore, sketching and painting the natural surroundings and the animals that became his friends. Here Walter created some of his most brilliant watercolors, work he kept hidden during his lifetime. In a beautifully crafted picture book biography, writer Hester Bass and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis pay homage to an uncompromising American artist.

Of course, I took it home and read it to my quirky 6-year-old daughter. We've been reading chapter books this summer with an occasional picture book thrown in so she was excited to see this something-new book. We read our chapter of Felicity of American Girl fame and I thought my little sweet pea would be to, to sleepy to read a biographical picture book, because she was looking pretty droopy.
She perked right up at the very first page, her head bobbed up and asked "is this poetry?" wow, what a compliment...I hope when I write a book someday, she might say the same thing to me!! Mind you, it is not written in rhymming words but it is lyrical. She listened all the way through Walter's story and even explored the end pages with examples of his art work. Perfect book, Lovely, really lovely illustrations from E.B. Lewis!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love my advance copy and will share it frequently!

StacyB. said...

I absolutely loved "The Secret Life of Walter Anderson" and plan on using it in my Kindergarten classroom. The illustrations immediately captured my attention and the storyline, which encourages everyone to see the world in an artistic vein, will speak to children. Thank you for a terrific story! I rate this a 5/5.

Mrs. Horne said...

What a wonderful treasure this book is! I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Walter Anderson but found the story and information about his life captivating.

I promptly went down to the art teacher and shared this book with her. What a great connection to a wonderful artist!

Picnic Basket Rating: 5/5

Lindsay Horne
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, VA

Angie said...

What a beautiful story. The illustrations/paintings are lovely. My favorite depicts the man packing his materials for a pre-dawn trip to his favorite painting spot. It's done in shades of purple and indigo. Then, of course, there are the little animals that scurry on and off the pages ... raccoons, foxes, pigs, birds, fish, rabbits. Or the one where he is laying on the beach with his hat over his eyes, looking for all the world like at man relaxed and at peace.
The first line reads "There once was a man whose love of nature was as wide as the world" ... a perfect example of an opening for students perfecting their writing craft. The author goes on to tell the story of a man who was true to himself and did what he believed was right. The author's note at the end helps us to understand why this artist was chosen by the author, and that adds another layer to the book.
I would give this book a 4. It may take a little cajoling ... but the student who finally picks it up will not be disappointed.

San Antonio, TX

Barbara said...

This is a truly luminous book, and a biography not told in the traditional sense. In the author's notes section, we learn of Walter's idiosyncracies that seemed to fuel his creativity and this can be used to reveal depth in and comparisons to his character.
This book can be used in crosss curriculum studies with art and science across grade levels.

Rating: 4

ahslibrarian said...

Hester Bass has given her readers a glimpse into The Secret World of Walter Anderson, where man and nature naturally combined to produce art. This world is safely entered into by children and adults. It is a world that welcomes the one that is seeking shelter and that freely gives of itself to those so inspired to follow.

Readers will actually find two separate works in this one volume. The first section depicts Walter’s story with the island The second offers more background on the art produced, includes a bibliography, and is intended for an older audience. This book fills a huge void in most traditional educational systems by creating awareness of more American artists.

The illustrative content in The Secret World of Walter Anderson answers the challenge: How does one illustrate the life of an artist and not be tempted to imitation? E. B. Lewis’ use of watercolor captured Walter Anderson without attempting to recreate his art. This use also restated Andreson’s relationship between himself and the environment.

All art teachers and school librarians will want to make sure that this book is available from PreK-12. The opportunities to integrate science and art abound. Public libraries will also want to consider adding it to their collection if they are located in a coastal region or have a thriving arts community.

4 out of 5

John Parker
Media Coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901


Anonymous said...

I loved this book. It teaches kids a new way to look at how art is created. I gave it to my art teacher and she used it in all of her class. She stated that all the kids loved see the actually room at the end of the book. I teach in a 5th and 6th grade school so I believe this book, if used correctly can work for the older grade levels and not 4-8 year olds. I believe next year I am going to use it to show that biographies can also be pictures books. My students think that biographies and autobiographies can only be chapter books and mostly boring, but this one is diffently interesting.

I give this book a 5.

Molly said...

This was my introduction to U.S. artist, Walter Anderson. This book gave me a look at an interesting artist I had never heard of before. The storyline handles the eccentricities of Anderson in a gentle manner. It is written on a level that can be appreciated by both young and old. Those with a true passion can certainly relate to Anderson, while those without will leave the book longing to care for something as deeply as he. The Author’s Note added significant details to enhance the story book. This book is beautifully illustrated and certainly adds to the story without being distracting. The illustrations have a natural presence alongside the text. I plan to share this with the art teachers at my school, who I would hope, in turn, would share its beauty and story with their students. I would give this book a 4/5 rating.

Molly Matchak
Jones Library ay Hickory High School

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