Review of A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa

A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa
by Andrea D’Aquino; illus. by the author
Primary    Princeton    40 pp.
9/19    978-1-61689-836-6    $17.95

D’Aquino offers young readers “the story of an artist you may have never heard of”: Ruth Asawa (1926–2013), a Japanese American creator of nature-inspired wire sculptures. A third-person text effectively uses occasional imagined quotations from young Ruth (“Hello Spider. How did you figure out how to make your web?”) to convey the sense of curiosity and wonder at the natural world that would later define this artist. Throughout the narrative, there’s also an emphasis on the handmade — from a childhood spent on a farm (where “working with her hands was an ordinary thing to do”) to her studies at Black Mountain College (where instructor Josef Albers “taught students to make art out of everything around them”) to learning basket-weaving from a local craftsperson in Mexico, which would inspire her woven-wire sculptures. The book’s illustrations, too, evoke the handmade; charcoal and colored-pencil drawings are combined with hand-painted and monoprinted paper in distinctive, naive-style collages. Back matter notes tell more about Asawa’s life, including the fact that she and her family were interned during WWII, which is left out of the main text; a list of resources and a fitting “Make Your Own Paper Dragonfly” activity are also appended.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is former managing editor and projects editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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