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Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw

by Deborah Kogan Ray

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7410263,817 (3.93)7
As soon as Wanda learned to draw, she dreamed of becoming an artist. But when her father died, a teenaged Wanda put her family before her art, taking care of her ailing mother and six siblings. When she knew that her family could support themselves, she finally attained her dream, winning a scholarship to a famous art school in New York City.… (more)



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Wanda Gag's story begins in a German settlement in Minnesota. Art was very important to her large family, consisting of her father, mother, and six younger siblings. Wanda's inspiration came from her father, who spend six days a week decorating homes and churches and one day a week doing art for himself; he urged her to look at the world in her own way. Her mother would read her German fairytales which became inspirational for her future story books. Her father died when she was fifteen, leaving her family in turmoil. Instead of giving up her dreams of art, she found ways to make money from it by selling cards and bookmarks. After finishing high school, she won an art school scholarship to a nearby university. In her senior year, her mother passed away. However, things changed for the better when she won another scholarship. The second scholarship was to the Art Students League in New York City. Wanda flourished in New York, but her artwork did not feel like it was coming from her heart. She rented a farmhouse; it was there that she was inspired to write "Millions of Cats" a story that was "as much a work of art as any picture she would send to an exhibition." This book was awarded a John Newbery Honor and catalysed Wanda's writing and drawing of many other story books.
This book is a detailed recollection of Wanda's life and hardships. It included passages from her diary above various sections in the books which adds a personal touch. However, some of Wanda's drawings should have been included in the book to give the reader an idea of what her drawings look like. ( )
  charneyuno | Nov 8, 2016 |
I find it amazing that Wanda Gag was able to help support her family, go to school, and continue to pursue her passion of drawing. This book serves as a good introduction into the world of non-fiction and biography. The main theme is to give a good background of Wanda Gag's life.

I liked this biography. It included lines from Gag's original writings, usually her journals. I felt these additions made the biography more personable. It gives more insight into her art process, also making her more real. Reading her words about her family sharing coats portrays one of her hardships. I also found her insights about her father's death touching. Her drive and selflessness make her a good role model for the students.

I enjoyed the illustrations. The book is about Wanda Gag's life as an artist. The pictures in the book have a sketchbook and pastel appearance. The pictures also helped illustrate the story further, depicting scenes that were relevant to the text without being exactly what the story said. ( )
  larasimmons2 | Oct 12, 2013 |
This immensely engaging picture-book biography follows the story of artist and children's author Wanda Hazel Gág (pronounced "gog"), whose ground-breaking picture-book Millions of Cats, was chosen as a Newbery Honor Book in 1929, and remains in print to this day. Born and raised in Minnesota, in an enclave of German-speaking Bohemian immigrants, Wanda's childhood was a happy one: surrounded by the love of her artistic parents, and her six younger siblings, she imbibed a constant diet of fairy-tales and Old World art. But when her beloved father died of tuberculosis, and her mother, too worn out from caring for her father, was unable to work, sixteen-year-old Wanda became the family breadwinner, temporarily putting away her dreams of art school. But though she shelved her own desires for a time, nothing could keep Wanda from drawing and painting - a calling that would eventually take her (after her family was comfortably settled) to St. Paul and thence to New York City.

Although I've been reading quite a few picture-book biographies intended for younger readers of late, Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw really stands out as an excellent example of the genre! Not only is it most informative, setting out the basic outline of Gág's life, and filling in many of the details, but the narrative itself is well-written, and really quite moving. I found myself tearing up at a few points, and was immensely impressed with this woman's sense of duty, and her love for her family. Deborah Kogan Ray really captures the fact that this was both a great artist and a great woman! The artwork is likewise appealing, with many little details - I loved the cats Snoopie and Snookie, upon whom Gág based her famous picture-book - that will grab the reader's attention. Included at the rear is a factual afterword, an author's note, and a list for further reading. What more could anyone want?

Highly recommend to all young readers, whether they are artists who are wondering if they "have what it takes," and need some encouragement, or fans of Gág's work. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 14, 2013 |
recommended for: all who are passionate about something, biography fans, fans of beautiful illustrations

You know, for what this book is, it is amazing. This story is certainly interesting enough to be written as a biography for adults but, because Gág (rhymes with jog) is most famous for her children’s picture books, having this done as a biography written for children is wonderful. I love how Wanda’s own words (from her diary and other sources) are used in this book. Wanda’s early life was tough and brought me close to tears at times, but it was so inspiring to read about someone who loved something so much and was determined to follow her dreams. I liked the photo of Wanda as an adult with a cat that’s at the end of the book, especially given that I’ve read Millions of Cats and it’s reassuring to see that she loved cats.

The illustrations are charming, from the cat looking at the drawing of a cat on the title page until the final illustration. There are many cats throughout, which I enjoyed. But I thought that all the illustrations were lovely. I am curious about the media used; I looked but did not see any details given.

The author obviously did extensive research in order to write this book, and there is an included bibliography. Because Wanda Gág’s actual words are included, it gives the story a sense of immediacy. It’s a special book. I’m really glad I’d already read [Millions of Cats:] before I read this. I’m sure this book would have inspired me to read it, and also Gág’s other illustrated books.

While it helps to have a supportive family, as Wanda did, this book shows how being persistent about following your dreams, despite adversity, is a worthwhile endeavor.

I love art books, children’s picture books, art books for kids, and, like this one, books about artists for kids. This is a particularly fine example since so much is written about the artist’s childhood. Kids should be able to identify with her. ( )
1 vote Lisa2013 | Apr 12, 2013 |
Good story! ( )
  melodyreads | Feb 6, 2012 |
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