Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting

Hugh Brewster
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 10 and up
Kids Can Press, 2007   ISBN: 978-1554531370

Kate Millet lives with her mother and father in Broadway, an English village. Kate’s father is a painter, and other painters often come to visit him and his wife. One day in August 1885, Ned Abbey brings Mr. Sargent, a painter, to visit. Kate likes Ned, but she is shy of Mr. Sargent, who is brusque and not very friendly.

Kate it surprised to hear that Mr. Sargent wants her to be in one of his paintings. Kate does her best to hold still so that Mr. Sargent can do his preliminary sketches, and she feels hurt and peeved when she finds out that Mr. Sargent has decided to use Polly and Dolly Barnard as his models for his “big picture” instead of her. Kate’s mother tells her that Mr. Sargent will paint a portrait of her alone “later.”

For months, Mr. Sargent paints Polly and Dolly as they pose for him in the garden of the Millet’s home, and summer slowly rolls into fall. Eventually it gets too cold to paint outdoors, and Mr. Sargent goes south. The large painting is set aside to wait for the warmer weather to return.

The painter is back in Broadway in the summer of 1886, and he makes a lot of progress on the painting. In between sessions on the painting, Mr. Sargent enjoys spending time with Kate, her family, and their friends. He even plays a song on the piano for Kate’s mother Lily during Lily’s birthday celebration. In honor of Lily, Mr. Sargent and two other guests sing a song called The Wreath because one of the lines in the song is “Carnation, lily, lily, rose.” No one imagines that these pretty words will soon become famous because of Mr. Sargent and his “big picture” of Polly and Dolly.

The tale in this unique picture book is based on the true story of how a famous painting was created and named. Drawing on letters written by Kate’s aunt, and on recollections of the people who visited the Millet’s house, the author combines fact and fiction to give readers a colorful and atmospheric picture of what it was like to be a part of Kate’s world.

The narrative in the story, written from Kate’s point of view, is broken up by numerous annotated reproductions of paintings, sketches, and photographs. Readers will be able to see for themselves why Mr. Sargent’s painting of Dolly and Polly became so famous.