Friday, May 1, 2015

The Sky Painter ~ blog tour & author interview

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
by Margarita Engle; illus. by Aliona Bereghici
40 pages; ages 6-8
Two Lions, 2015

 theme: birds, art, conservation

opening: I love the bright wings of birds 
as they fly, wild and free, 
high above me.

Louis loves to watch birds. His father wants him to study to become an engineer, but Louis dreams of being an artist. A bird artist. But instead of killing birds and painting from skins, he wants to paint living, flying birds in their habitat.

Why I like this book: Ever since I moved to my home not-too-far from Ithaca, I have heard of the famous Louis Agassiz Fuertes. So I was doubly interested in reading Margarita Engle's new book. I wanted to learn more about this local art & bird hero.

I like the way the story is written - in verse - and that each page or two is headed by a title: "Bird Art"; "Learning"; "Letting Birds Live". Fuertes went on field expeditions to paint birds, so there is Alaska, the Caribbean, South America. And there are the gorgeous illustrations of parrots and waterfowl and more! This book makes me want to head outside with a sketchbook and crayons and look more closely at the birds in my habitat.

Beyond the book: Appreciate the birds in your neighborhood. No matter where you live, whether in the city or country, there are birds all around you. There are hawks and owls in cities, doves and chickadees in the country. What birds live around you? Learn more about them.

Check out the art of Louis Fuertes. Fuertes painted with oils and watercolors, and sketched in pen and charcoal. You can see some of his artwork archived at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.

Draw and paint birds you see. If you want some practice drawing birds before you head out "into the field" to capture live birds with your pencils or brush, here's some "how to draw a bird" advice. Mostly, though, you just have to do it. Practice observing and drawing will make you better.

I liked this book so much that I begged Margarita to answer a few questions. Which she did, most graciously.

Three Questions
 Archimedes: What inspired you to write about Fuertes?

Margarita: Independent thinking! Creativity! Originality! Instead of accepting the way things had always been done, Fuertes dared to try something new. He greatly admired earlier bird artists, but unlike Audubon, Fuertes lived in a time when people realized the need for wildlife conservation. Instead of killing birds and posing them, he decided to learn how to paint faster. As a result, Fuertes's paintings not only have a spark of life in the eye of each bird, they also include actions, behaviors, and habitats that were missing from the work of earlier artists. 

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do for this book?

Margarita: Some of my research happened while working on an earlier book, Silver People. I came upon mentions of Fuertes, which led me to look for books about his paintings. I should mention that I absolutely love travel and reading.... and I hope that teachers who use The Sky Painter will include field trips. Even a ten-minute walk around the most urban school campus will reveal small creatures that fascinate children. Once they've seen the iridescence of a hummingbird or the seed-cracking shape of a house finch's beak, they'll want to lean more.

Archimedes: Talk about his contribution to conservation. 

Margarita: Fuertes was one of the early members of the Audubon Society. He spoke to women's clubs about finding alternatives to feathers for decorating their hats. He led nature walks, and encouraged kids who visited his studio to do their own bird sketches. When he was a young child, he kept a bird hospital under the porch stairs and once tied an owl to the kitchen table so he could paint its portrait. As an adult he kept a loon in the bathtub so he could watch (and paint) duck feet in action. He aimed a telescope at the moon to watch night-flying flocks of migratory birds, and hid inside an "invisibility cloak" of leaves while painting flamingos.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from Blue Slip Media

If you missed any of the Blog Tour stops - or want to revisit them - here's the list:

Mon, Apr 20
Library Fanatic
Tues, Apr 21
Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Apr 22
Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Apr 23
5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Apr 24
Teach Mentor Texts
Sat, Apr 25
Booking Mama
Mon, Apr 27
Tues, Apr 28
The Children's Book Review
Wed, Apr 29
Cracking the Cover
Thurs, Apr 30
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust


  1. As a fellow bird enthusiast it sounds like this book is a must read! How very cool that you got to interview the author!

  2. Even if his father had wanted something else for him, someone must have shown support if he was able to keep an owl in the kitchen! Looks wonderful!

  3. Sue, thanks for sharing this bird book. In your author interview, I was hooked by "he decided to learn how to paint faster."

  4. What a great addition to any classroom library. Thanks for the recommendation. :)

  5. This is inspirational. I love that it is about Fuertes and his love of painting the natural world. And I so enjoyed the interview! This is definitely a book for classrooms.

  6. Thanks for the mini interview, this is a book I need to get my hands on.

  7. I love birds and bird books. Thanks for the heads up on this one. It looks beautiful. Also, thanks for the link to the drawing site. I think my granddaughter will love poking around there.

  8. Fascinating that he made the change to drawing birds from life, which must have been very challenging before the times of digital cameras. Did you see his self-portrait? He looks as fierce as one of the raptors he painted :-)

  9. I've been enjoying the wrens in my rose bushes today. I admire anyone who could capture their quick movements.