Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw

Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw

Deborah Kogan Ray
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 11
Penguin, 2008   ISBN: 0670062928

Though she was born and grew up in America, Wanda Gag often felt as if she had grown up in Europe. Her family lived in New Olm in Minnesota, a strongly German community where the German language, music, food, literature, and traditions were a part of life.

Wanda’s family was unique because a strong “love of art” was a driving force in their lives. All seven of the children “were encouraged to draw pictures, write stories, sing, and dance.” Wanda loved to watch her father while he painted pictures on Sundays, his day off. She developed a passion for drawing what she saw around her, and as she grew this passion grew stronger.

After the death of her father, when Wanda was fifteen, the family had a hard time making enough money to live on. Many people thought that Wanda should quit school and get a job, but Wanda knew that her father would have wanted her to stay in school and to keep on drawing and painting. She found ways to make her art earn money, selling cards and bookmarks in a local store. She also sent illustrated stories to magazines for publication.

For several years Wanda did what she had to do to support her younger siblings. Then, when she was twenty, Wanda was finally able to go to art school in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1917 she won a scholarship to go to the Art League in New York City, an art school where many promising young artists went to study. It was while she was in New York City that Wanda learned that it was all right to embrace her own unique style, which is exactly what she did.

Drawing from entries in Wanda Gag’s diaries and her other writings, the author of this book tells the extraordinary story of a girl who never stopped dreaming that one day she would be able to become a full-time artist. As we read the text, we can see how, despite a hard life, Wanda held on to her passion for telling stories and drawing pictures, and how, when she grew up, she used these skills to create what many people consider to be the first modern picture book for children. Her book Millions of Cats, won a Caldecott Honor award in 1929.

The author provides readers will further information about Wanda Gag’s life and work at the back of the book. An author’s note describes where Deborah Kogan Ray found the source materials that she used to create this book.