The Picture Book Buzz

Parks for the People - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

This is an interesting biography of a man determined to use his love of the outdoors to create parks across America so everyone could experience the peace, fresh air, and benefits of nature. I get to offer you a sneak peak of this book, which releases April 5th.

Parks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed America


Author: Elizabeth Partridge


Illustrator: Becca Stadtlander


Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group (2022)


Ages: 4-8


Nonfiction


Themes:

Creating America's parks, landscape architecture, and biography.


Synopsis:

National Book Award finalist Elizabeth Partridge reveals the life and work of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, the United States Capitol building's landscape, and more.


Nobody could get Frederick Law Olmsted to sit still. He was filled with energy, adventure, and dreams of changing the world. As a boy, he found refuge in the peace and calm of nature, and later as an adult, he dreamed of designing and creating access to parks for a growing and changing America. When New York City held a contest for the best park design for what would become Central Park, Olmsted won and became the father of landscape architecture. He went on to design parks across America, including Yosemite National Park and even the grounds for the United States Capitol.


This scenic biography is lavishly illustrated by Becca Stadtlander, and National Book Award finalist Elizabeth Partridge brings her renowned lyricism and meticulous research to the visionary who brought parks to the people.


Opening Lines:

Nobody could get Frederick Law Olmsted to sit

still. He thought memorizing obscure facts and learning

ancient languages was boring. He fiddled and squirmed

and stared out the window, longing to be outside.

After school, Fred raced through town. He visited his father’s dry

goods store and checked in on the blacksmith and carriage maker.


What I Liked about this book:

Like Elizabeth, I knew nothing about the creator of New York city's Central Park or the grounds at the U.S. Capitol. And I've been to Yosemite National Park, but never really thought about a landscape architect laying out the access and flow of the park. I mean wasn't it just created around the land's contours, where the wagons travelled?

Text © Elizabeth Partridge, 2022. Image © Becca Stadtlander, 2022.


I found this a fascinating book about a man dedicated to ensuring that ALL people, regardless of economics or race would have access to the recharging, re-invigorating benefits of nature that he enjoyed. Becca Stadtlander's beautiful, period-like, watercolor illustrations not only portray Fredrick Olmsted's connection and need for nature, but the growing pains and struggles of the country.

Text © Elizabeth Partridge, 2022. Image © Becca Stadtlander, 2022.


This interesting biography chronicles Fredrick jobs, which always seemed to involve being outside - surveyor, farmer, park construction foreman, sanitation director for Union army soldiers, gold mine operator, and finally park designer - as he moved around the country. The sheer number of times he had to pick up and totally start over are impressive. But it all culminated in his ultimately creation of the profession of "landscape architect," as well as some beautiful parks.

Text © Elizabeth Partridge, 2022. Image © Becca Stadtlander, 2022.


And while it's fascinating to learn about all the parks he had a part in creating... I do wonder if, given the length of the text and the subject matter (taking the land from Black citizens & Native Americans, the civil war, and the shooting of Lincoln), 4-8 is the right target age. I think I would have expected 8-12. I am not sure even with the beautiful illustrations, it would hold the attention of a four-year-old.


While the text lightly touches on the forced displacement of many by the government. The extensive author's note delves deeper into the use of eminent domain to clear out the entire Seneca village to create Central Park and the seizure of the land of the Ahwahneechee, a subtribe of the Mono-Paiute, to create Yosemite National Park. As well as the author's own childhood experience with land seizure by eminent domain in California. Additionally, a great dual timeline juxtaposes Olmsted's timeline with a contemporaneous timeline of the United States.


This is a powerful, thought-provoking biography of a man, probably few know about. A man who created a long-lasting impact on the environment and America's interactions with city and national parks. But it's also a book that's likely to open up a number of discussions.


Resources:

- make your own mini park. Will it be a garden with trails, a playground, or something more unusual like a "rock-shark" beach park or a dinosaur park?


- do you have a favorite park? Why? What do you like to do there? Can you draw a map of your park?


- if you designed a park, what would it look like? Draw a plan, create a diorama, or write a description of what you would put in your park.


If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with the author Elizabeth Partridge (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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