About the Holiday
Today, I’m featuring another interactive book that will get young readers excited about learning more about art—or in this case—architecture. A great book can help kids find role models from the past or today that they can connect with philosophically and creatively. A book that touches on, validates, and encourages a child’s talent or dream is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Meet the Architect! Frank Lloyd Wright
By Patricia Geis
Artists can be endlessly fascinating not only for their work but for their lives, which influence where they get their ideas, how they create each piece, and what made them an artist in the first place. In Meet the Architect! Frank Lloyd Wright, readers get an opportunity to discover the backstory, the influences, the three architectural rules, the clients, and, of course, the buildings of this master architect, whose mother predicted his profession before he was even born and “surrounded his crib with drawings of cathedrals.” This deep dive into Frank Lloyd Wright’s life is accomplished not only through text, but with little fold-outs that are themselves illustrated booklets, 3D popups, illustrated panels that extent the pages, tabs, a portfolio of postcards, and more.
But let’s get started! Young readers may wonder what Frank was like as a kid. Learning that his grandfather, Richard Lloyd Jones, a Welsh milliner who made “‘black cone-shaped hats that ended in a point, worn as much by witches when they flew on their broomsticks as by other Welshmen,” will only whet their appetite to know more, and they won’t be disappointed. In addition to the text that briefly outlines Wright’s ancestry and earliest work experiences and defines what an architect is, a child asks a few questions.
The first speech bubble asks, “How was he as a kid?” Readers open it up to see a photograph of Frank at age 10 accompanying a description of the books he read, the activities he and his best friend did, the newspaper he created, and even why “he called himself Aladdin” for a while. Readers next meet him at 16 in a photo of his very large extended family, and they also get to see his Uncle James’ house where he spent eight summers working on the farm. The exterior photo of the house Wright made for his family. Two other speech bubbles introduce children to the house Wright designed and built for his family and a discussion of his favorite color, complete with full-color photographs.
No artist is created in a vacuum, so author Patricia Geis includes a discussion of Friedrich Froebel, the creator of kindergarten and designer of twenty games that engaged children in geometry, creating dimensional shapes, building, and crafts and were influential in Wright’s development as well as in that of many well-known “artists, philosophers, and architects who would invent the abstract language of modern art.” A popup on the page replicates one of Froebel’s games.
Wright’s father was also influential in his son’s education. He taught him to love music and “see the composer as a builder. For Wright, music and architecture were constructed by means of a system of units: the notes in music and the bricks in a house.” Just as notes are written on a staff, an architectural drawing is created on a grid. A detailed popup of Unity Temple built in 1908 in Oak Park, Illinois demonstrates how the building is positioned on a grid while a fold-out panel presents images of a floor plan, a cross section, a perspective drawing, and two photographs—one of the exterior and one of the interior of this beautiful temple.
Wright is well-known for setting his buildings in harmony with their surroundings. In her chapter “The Landscape,” Geis explains that Wright believed all buildings should adhere to “‘organic architecture,’” which meant they should “be in harmony with the landscape, respect the materials of construction, and respond to the need of the client.” She goes on to talk about Taliesin, the house, studio, and farm where he opened a school of architecture in 1932,, and Taliesin West in Arizona. These two landmarks are presented first with small framed photos (which cleverly mirror pictures on an art gallery wall) that open up to show how the buildings blend in with the environment and second with foldouts that include interior and exterior photographs as well as accompanying text.
Fallingwater, built in 1936, is one of Wright’s most famous designs, and with the pull of a tab, readers can transform the waterfall that hosts this house into the showstopper it became. More photographs and text present Wright’s philosophy about the house and land as well as the level of detail that went into building it—even to his choice to paint “the upper part the same color as the underside of a rhododendron leaf.”
“Wright believed that every house should fit its inhabitants, like a made-to-measure suit.” To see just how he accomplished creating one-of-a-kind houses, readers can flip through a portfolio of five postcards, each of which presents a color photograph of the exterior of the house on the front and a description and interior photographs on the back. Visitors to the Guggenheim Museum in New York have experienced how Wright brought “the forms of nature to the city.” Shaped with the spiral of a snail’s shell, the museum showcases the art collection of Solomon r. Guggenheim, who bought “the works of such avant-garde artists as Kandinsky, Klee, Picasso, and Mondrian. Perhaps Wright’s connection with some of these artists through their common adoption of Froebel’s games early in their development is one reason the museum and the art work so well together.
A natural teacher, Wright would no doubt invite readers of this book to do some architectural exploration of their own, and so Geis has included sheets of card stock blocks, shapes, cubes to build, and other elements as well as a grid for children to play with.
Patricia Geis is an engaging and compelling tour guide on this absorbing survey of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life that spanned from 1867 to 1959 taking in Reconstruction, “the Industrial Revolution, the coming of electricity, two world wars, and the invention of television.” Her clear and straightforward storytelling draws readers in with intriguing details, information about his childhood, and sprinkled-in direct appeals for them to look closer at or notice something in the photographs. Geis does an excellent job of connecting Wright’s early influences to his later work and his architectural philosophies to his finished projects. Each two-page spread creates a chapter of sorts, making it easy for kids and adults to dip into the book as they wish or to read it all in one sitting. Charming illustrations of wanna-be architects on various pages invite kids along on this beautiful and beautifully done journey of discovery.
A stunning book that any child—or adult—would cherish, Meet the Architect! Frank Lloyd Wright is highly recommended for anyone interested in architecture or any of the arts. I would also encourage readers to check out the other books in this series, including Meet the Artist! books about Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Vincent van Gogh, and Leonardo da Vinci. If you are looking for a unique gift for a teacher or someone on your list, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Ages 7 – 12 and up
Princeton Architectural Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1616895938
You can learn more about Patricia Geis, her books, and her art here.
You can find Meet the Architect! Frank Lloyd Wright at these booksellers
Picture Book Review