Review of Parks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed America

Parks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed AmericaParks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed America
by Elizabeth Partridge; illus. by Becca Stadtlander
Primary, Intermediate    Viking    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-9848-3515-4    $17.99

Beginning with a title that introduces both Frederick Law Olmsted’s work and the book’s main idea, Partridge (Boots on the Ground, rev. 3/18) gives young readers a focused biography that shows not only what Olmsted accomplished—he designed and executed the completion of numerous parks, from Central Park to the U.S. Capitol grounds—but also what stirred him to do so. Deliberately, but never with a heavy hand, she fleshes out these accomplishments with the private motivations that gave his public work meaning. For example, readers see Olmsted as a restless boy who found joy in nature and a young activist who wanted to improve the lives of others, steady in his conviction that the land was the province of all Americans, no matter their backgrounds. Although his beliefs were altruistic, the execution of them was not always so, as his labors displaced African Americans and Native Americans in Central Park and Yosemite, respectively. (Partridge mentions both in the main narrative and elaborates on them in the back matter.) Stadtlander’s (Fearless World Traveler, rev. 9/21) watercolor and gouache illustrations invoke folk art, underscoring the main idea that these parks are “for the people.” Double-page spreads allow an emphasis on landscapes. Back matter includes a timeline of ­Olmsted’s life in context with historical events; documentation; and a bibliography. In a concluding note, Partridge shares her experiences in two of her subject’s parks, reminding readers that these green spaces still exist, for us all, over a century after they were first created.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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