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Review of Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois

novesky_cloth lullabystar2 Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois
by Amy Novesky; 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
Primary    Abrams    40 pp.
5/16    978-1-4197-1881-6    $18.95

Novesky returns to territory in which she shines — picture-book biographies of influential and strong-willed female artists (Georgia in Hawaii; Me, Frida) — with this exquisite portrait of modern artist Louise Bourgeois, who became most famous for her giant sculptures of spiders. Bourgeois also worked with textiles, and it’s at her family’s tapestry-restoration workshop in France, along a river “that wove like a wool thread through everything,” that the book begins. Much focus is on Louise’s close childhood relationship with her mother, who taught her “about form and color and the various styles of textiles. Some bore elaborate patterns; others told 
stories.” While Louise is in college studying mathematics, her mother dies; bereft (“a thread, broken”), Louise turns to art and spends the rest of her life creating works tied to memory that soothe and heal: sculptures of spiders, for instance, because “her mother was not unlike a spider, a repairer of broken things,” and cloth items composed of various fabrics from her life, because “weaving was her way to make things whole.” Novesky sews together the many themes of Bourgeois’s art and life — weaving, restoration, maternity, domesticity, memory — into a spare yet lilting narrative. Arsenault taps into these themes in her illustrations, which combine ink, pencil, pastel, watercolor, and Photoshop to create gorgeous images as stylistically and compositionally varied as the tapestries Louise’s mother wove. An author’s note, which incorporates two photographs of Bourgeois and her spider sculptures, neatly ties up loose ends; quotation sources are included.

From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is managing editor of The Horn Book Guide.

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