cover image The Wonderful Towers of Watts

The Wonderful Towers of Watts

Patricia Zelver. HarperCollins Publishers, $15 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12649-0

In the center of Watts, the impoverished Los Angeles neighborhood, a cluster of multicolored towers stands tall, bearing witness to one man's dream of beauty. An understated text tells the true story behind the towers. Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, spent 30 years collecting ``things that people thought were better thrown away'' and transformed them into mosaic-covered monuments twinkling over his neighborhood. In gouaches as stylized and vivid as those in her Caribbean Alphabet (reviewed above), Lessac captures the gaudy beauty of his achievement while recasting the towers as a magical fairground ride, all curves and pillars glittering with promise. Just as the spires rise from behind dull gray fences, the wonder of this story bubbles just below the surface of the spare narrative. Zelver ( The Wedding of Don Octavio ) stresses the poverty of Watts to underline the hopeful symbolism of Old Sam's dream, and it is a shame that she didn't set her text in perspective with an afterword about the Watts riots, civil rights, etc. Lessac's artwork carries the book even further away from history. Ages 5-up. (May)