Book Review Archives

The Secret World of Walter Anderson

By: Hester Bass; Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen
Candlewick Press, 2009
$17.99, Hardcover

    Walter locked the door to one little room in his cottage. He didn’t let anyone in there—maybe a possum or a mouse, but not his wife or his children. 
    Nobody. Ever. That was his little room. 
                 —from The Secret World of Walter Anderson

Enter the world of reclusive nature-lover Walter Anderson, a renowned watercolor artist who lived a simple life at the edge of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a place where the sea meets the earth and the sky. In this exquisite picture book biography, Orbis Pictus Award-winning writer Hester Bass and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E.B. Lewis pay honor to this uncompromising American artist and offer a powerful glimpse into the secret world of Walter Anderson.

Anderson was a solitary artist. He used metal garbage cans as suitcases. He packed apples, raisins, peanut butter, and rice. He packed paints, brushes, pencils, and 8 ½ inch typing paper. He never went anywhere without his scruffy old weather-beaten hat. It shaded his eyes, held art supplies, and transported his models, such as snakes, birds, and raccoons.

On Horn Island, Walter would stay for weeks creating some of his most brilliant watercolors in all kinds of weather, sleeping under his boat, eating mystery food or whatever washed ashore. He kept journals, writing and drawing about everything he experienced. Anderson died in 1965. His wife opened the room he kept locked and discovered the walls covered with paintings of a Gulf Coast day.

This book attests to the extraordinary artwork created by Walter Anderson and gives the reader a serene feeling. Readers can see as Anderson did the beauty of “that last magic hour before sunset, as the colors of the world were melting into darkness.” This biography picture book is suitable for ages 6-10, but all ages will enjoy this fine literary and artistic work.

Hester Bass of Owens Cross Roads, Alabama, recently received the Orbis Pictus Award, given by the National Council of Teachers of English, for this book.

E.B. Lewis is the illustrator of more than thirty books for children. Among his many honors are a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes, and three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honors. He lives in Folsom, New Jersey. June 2010

Linda A. McQueen is the Library Media Specialist at McNeel School in Birmingham.