The Clay Ladies

Michael Bedard, Author, Les Tait, Illustrator
Michael Bedard, Author, Les Tait, Illustrator Tundra Books (NY) $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-88776-385-4
Paperback - 40 pages - 978-0-88776-573-5
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-21845-0
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-613-77329-4
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Loosely based on the lives of sculptors Frances Loring and Florence Wyle, who lived and worked together for some 40 years beginning in 1920, Bedard's (The Divide) story touches on art's healing capacity. A boy's visit to his grandmother and her cozy living room frames and foreshadows the main narrative in which the grandmother describes her girlhood memories of her neighbors, nicknamed ""the Clay Ladies"": ""They were not at all like women I had known. They wore baggy trousers and men's stiff shoes, and one had her hair clipped short."" Her first encounter with the women comes when she finds an injured bird, which she brings to the Clay Ladies at their outwardly dilapidated home, a former church now transformed into a spectacular studio. Florence agrees to care for the bird and invites the girl to come back during its convalescence. During the visits she also learns how to sculpt, forming a tiny clay bird that takes shape as the live one heals. Unfortunately, Bedard does not pursue the relationship between Frances and Florence or their iconoclastic lifestyle in relation to the community around them, and much of the frame story seems extraneous and sluggish. Tait (The White Stone in the Castle Wall) adopts a realistic approach in single-page watercolors filled with views of bookshelves, scaffolding and clay figures in various stages of completion, yet because the proportions of characters and models vary, the effect is strangely surreal. The girl's contemporary attire seems out of sync with the period setting, and her facial features often appear to belong to an older version of herself. These jarring effects, coupled with an underdeveloped plot, will likely leave readers disappointed. Ages 8-11. (Apr.)
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