Cloth Lullaby: the woven life of Louise Bourgeois
Words by Amy Novesky; pictures by Isabelle Arsenault
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016
Picture book, biography
Interest level: grades 2-5; reading level: 4.4
3 out of 5 stars
From a visual perspective, Cloth Lullaby: the woven life of Louise Bourgeois is stunningly beautiful. Isabelle Arsenault did a wonderful job creating unique illustrations that are combinations of ink, pencil, pastel, watercolor, and photoshop.
Louise Bourgeois is a visual artist that is not well-known to children. It is important to introduce children to biographies of both the well-known and lesser-known artists to expand their knowledge and interest in the world. This book is meant to introduce Louise Bourgeois to children, and show how her childhood and relationship to her parents helped form her into the artist she became as an adult.
Unfortunately, I feel that the text of the story does not succeed in its mission of informing about Louise Bourgeois’ art, and the text will fail to engage young readers. There are an incredible number of metaphors in the story, and most of the time instead of helping to create an image, they feel as if the author is forcing the theme of weaving and spiders onto the reader.
Louise’s parents repaired tapestries for a living, and young Louise learned this trade at a young age. Because most wear occurs at the bottom of tapestries, this is the area that most needs repair, so Louise became adept at drawing feet. Instead of just sharing this interesting fact to readers, the author then adds, “Drawing was like a thread in a spider’s web.” This connection between drawing feet and a spider’s web made no sense to me, and is an example of how this metaphor is forced throughout the story.
The story ends with an image that I was not able to grasp, and doubt that young readers will either:
With the remaining fabric of her life, Louise wove together a cloth lullaby. She wove the river that raised her–maternal pinks, blues in watery hues. She wove a mother sewing in the sun, a girl falling asleep beneath the stars, and everything she’d ever loved. When she was done, all of her spiders beside her, she held the river and let it rock her again.”
I am not sure if this reference is to a real tapestry that she designed before she died, or if it is a metaphor for her life’s work. If it is real, I would have liked to have an actual image of this tapestry, but instead I feel like this meaning is just outside of my grasp.
An author’s note at the end provides a few more details about her life. It includes two photographs that show some of the spiders that she created. I would have also liked to see some of the cloth art that she made, being as that seemed to be a large focus of the story.
For students of art history, Cloth Lullaby would be an interesting read, but for elementary age children, the text and metaphors are too esoteric to be engaging.