INTO THE WOODS: John James Audubon Lives His Dream
, , illus. by Wendell Minor. . S&S/Atheneum, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83040-2
Having previously written about Thoreau, Lindbergh and Babe Ruth, Burleigh continues his series of biographies of famous men in this poetic picture book about John James Audubon (1785–1851), sumptuously illustrated by Minor. The volume begins with advice to Audubon from his father: " 'Be a store owner,' his father said./ But John went to the woods instead." As an author's note explains, what follows is Burleigh's imagined response, penned by Audubon in a letter to his father, in an ornate 19th-century style with rhymed couplets: "O father, dear Father, to me it seems/ No one can fail who holds to his dreams." The flow of the narrative parallels quotations from the naturalist's journals, just as Audubon's own paintings sometimes appear as spot art to mirror Minor's illustrations. Author and artist present Audubon as both idealistic and gentle, and though he doesn't "save every cent" as his father wants him to, he ends up "saving" in his artwork the disappearing world he observes ("And I must paint it all because/ We need this memory of what was"). His philosophy wafts through the volume like a summer breeze. Minor breathtakingly captures a landscape with a blue heron in the marsh as easily as a close-up of a dying dove, alongside a poem deft and sure. Nature-lovers and budding artists will want to know about this one. Ages 6-up.
Reviewed on: 12/02/2002