About the Holiday
Sewing is one of the most popular hobbies around and has historically been one of the most important industries in this country and around the world. National Sewing Month was established in 1982 to encourage people to learn more about this craft and to try their hand at picking up a needle or sitting down at a sewing machine. To celebrate read up on the history of sewing and the textile industry and consider taking a sewing class or learning on your own. Sewing can be a fun and rewarding activity for adults and children. Who knows? It may even become a career that can send you to the Oscars, as you’ll see in today’s book!
Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head
Written by Jeanne Walker Harvey | Illustrated by Diana Toledano
As a child, living in a dry, barren mining town, Edith felt like she didn’t belong. She dreamed of living “in a place full of people and sounds and dazzling lights.” She liked hosting pretend tea parties with colorful china and sweet treats for her stuffed animals and imaginary guests. She also dressed up her pet cat, dog, rabbit, horned toad, and two mules in scarves, clothes, and fancy hats that she made just for them.
“Edith’s greatest treasure was her bag of fabric scraps,” which she added to by going door to door collecting cloth whenever she and her family visited Searchlight, Nevada, a few miles away. With these scraps she made furniture, rugs, and tablecloths for her dollhouse and clothes for her little dolls. But her favorite thing to do was make costumes for her two friends, who liked to perform and make up plays for their families and friends. Edith preferred staying behind the curtain, self-conscious about her straight hair and gasses.
Every night, Edith wished on the stars that she could move away and transform her life. Her chance came when her mother enrolled her in high school in Los Angeles. Here, Edith set about trying to figure out what kind of career she would pursue. She tried piano and gymnastics, but finally found her passion at the movie theater. Watching actors on the screen, Edith was able to escape “feeling shy at school.”
While Edith initially chose to become a teacher, after a few years “the allure of movies drew her back.” Without any formal art training, she found “a job as a sketch artist in a costume department of a movie studio.” When her boss discovered her lack of training, instead of firing her, he began teaching her how to draw costumes himself.
It took time and many rejections of her designs until Edith was finally entrusted with making costumes. But these weren’t for actors. “Instead, she dressed up animals. They were not easy clients.” But Edith was determined and soon she had a shot at dressing dancers as candy, but her designs, while creative, melted, cracked, and . . . flopped. But Edith got another chance.
She worked hard for many years, gained experience, and was finally asked to “design costumes for famous movie stars.” Edith came to work on hundreds of movies, transforming actors into their characters and becoming famous herself. Then one night at the Oscars, Edith sat listening to the presenter announce the name of the winner for Best Costume Design. She was thrilled to hear her name, and “she climbed the stairs to the stage to accept her award” wearing a gown she’d designed herself.
Back matter includes an extended biography of Edith’s life, teaching, and work in Hollywood and includes photographs of Edith at work at her easel and dressing Dorothy Lamour in 1938 as well as a sketch for a costume worn by Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief.
Jeanne Walker Harvey’s biography of Edith Head highlights this famous behind-the-scenes creator’s early life and dreams, her perseverance, and the self-confidence that spurred her on despite setbacks. Young readers will be interested to see how Edith’s childhood love for imaginary play, creating clothes for her pets and toys, and collecting cloth ultimately led to her career as a movie costume designer even though she pursued other jobs before recognizing her true passion. As she becomes involved in the movie industry, Edith’s receptiveness to learning and to learning from her mistakes provides a valuable lesson for all children.
Diana Toledano’s charming illustrations show Edith at her creative and courageous best as she holds a tea party for her toys, dresses her bevy of unusual pets, and strikes out into the desert to play. Depictions of the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, Edith’s enchanting dollhouse, and a Los Angeles street orient readers to the time period, while the ornate movie theater and black-and-white film Edith watches show how the movies offered Edith escape from her shyness. Toledano’s textured images follow Edith as she practices, fails, practices some more, and finally achieves her goals. The final illustrations showing Edith at the Academy Awards ceremony, walking the red carpet and winning an Oscar shows kids that dreams really can come true.
An inspirational biography of a woman who broke barriers in Hollywood, Dressing Up the Stars will appeal to kids who are interested in the movies and all creative endeavors and encourage them to pursue their true passions.
Ages 3 – 8
Beach Lane Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534451056
Discover more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books on her website.
To learn more about Diana Toledana, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Sewing Month Activity
Dressing Up the Stars Activity Kit
With this Dressing Up the Stars Activity Kit, kids can create their own costumes for Edith’s pets, a paper doll, and a character dressed as candy! They can even write the acceptance speech they’d give if they won an Oscar for their work on a movie!
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