Frank, Who Liked to Build: The Architecture of Frank Gehry
Earn by promoting books
Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.Become an affiliate
About the Author
Maria Brzozowska is a Polish artist and illustrator. She combines digital aids with traditional painting techniques to produce beautiful imagery for children's books. With vivid colours and a knack for detail, her take on the world of vehicles is sure to delight parents and children alike.
Deborah Blumenthal encourages kids to pursue their artistic visions by playing with size, shape, color, materials and style. She is the author of 27 books, about half are written for children ages 4-9. Her latest children's book, "Frank, Who Liked To Build" (Kar-Ben) is about the architecture of Frank Gehry.
Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist, a regular contributor to The New York Times, including four years as the Sunday New York Times Magazine beauty columnist, and a home-design columnist for Newsday. She and her husband lived in West University for five years.
Gehry is best-known for his unorthodox buildings that are the opposite of the severe sharp-edged box - like modern building style, devoid of superfluous ornament - architecture stripped to its barest bones. In contrast, Gehry's buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Olympic Fish Pavilion in Barcelona, "curve and swerve and undulate like swimming fish" according to Blumenthal.
"Gehry's buildings are more about fun and seeing the world in a different way," Blumenthal told the JHV. "His ideas come from playing, dreaming and looking at architecture in a positive way. Sometimes, his architectural drawings seem goofy and crazy, but they are very grounded in reality when it comes to function.
At age 93, Gehry is still working.
"I love people who have a passion for work, who are constantly creating," said Blumental. "I discovered there wasn't a picture-book biography about Gehry. I'm always looking for picture-book ideas. It takes me longer to find an idea than to write the book because, once I start, I work on it 24/7."
Blumenthal has written other children's books about visionary artists and designers, such as jeweled evening bag designer Judith Leiber; fashion photographer Bill Cunningham; and party gown designer Ann Cole Lowe.
These people are not the usual subjects of juvenile literature. Lowe, for example, designed the wedding dress that Jacqueline Bouvier wore when she married John F. Kennedy. However, Lowe received little public recognition because she was Black.
"Kids love to dress up and are interested in the subject of clothing," remarked Blumenthal. "I'm trying to encourage kids in a positive way from early on."
That said, her own kids didn't have any special exposure to build environments other than the usual Lincoln Logs and LEGO building sets.
"We would vacation at beach houses, and the kids would play with sand and shells. But none of my kids became architects or wedding gown designers, for that matter."
Blumenthal wrote her first children's book, "The-Chocolate-Covered-Cookie Tantrum" in 1996. The story is simple: Coming home from the park with her mother, Sophie sees another kid munching on a chocolate covered cookie. Sophie wants that cookie. Now! Her mom logically explains why Sophie can't have that cookie. Sophie doesn't respond to her mom's logic. She throws a tantrum that escalates with fury on each page.
"Kids think it's funny, the idea of another child having a tantrum," said Blumenthal. "It's the kind of story they want to read over and over. So, it covers two of the most important things you need in a children's book: a fun factor and a situation that keeps kids reading it over and over."
In "Frank, Who Liked To Build," Blumenthal emphasizes how, as a youngster, Gehry would use "scraps of whatever was around" to create his structures. Bits of wood from a sack for the family's woodstove. Chunks of dough his grandma would give him to play with while she baked challah.
As a youngster, Gehry played with whatever materials he had. He learned through play. And, he was always playing. That's why his parents thought he was a dreamer and wouldn't amount to anything if he didn't grow up.
Blumenthal's message to her juvenile readers: Keep dreaming, playing and following your passions.
"Writing kid's books forces you to crystalize your thoughts," she said. "When I go over juvenile writing in my classes for writers, I ask students: What do you want to say? Why is each word on the page? There's no room for anything extraneous.
"Write your story in the most simple and elemental way. Everything has to be clear, perfectly expressed. Writing children's books is wonderful training for any kind of writing."
FRANK, WHO LOVED TO BUILD introduces us to the iconic architect Frank Gehry. As a young boy, he spent most of his time dreaming and playing despite his parents' disapproval, although he found support from his grandmother. We follow him through his life as he continues to dream and play, achieving success as an architect. The author's descriptive, lyrical style fits well with her subject. The language used is appropriate for young readers.
I have always thought that an extra burden is placed on illustrators of books about artists. After all, they have to evoke the spirit of the art without actually replicating it. Brzozowska is able to accomplish that here with her striking, brilliantly-colored art. Of course, she focuses on the shapes and curves that defined Gehry's designs.
Most scenes depict Frank and his family, who are white Jews. There is one scene set in a Los Angeles park that includes people with a variety of skin tones.
The back matter contain six photographs of extraordinary buildings Gehry designed. There is also a photograph of the architect, looking proud and happy (in contrast to how he appears in the book). A timeline might have been a good addition, as when I finished reading, I googled Frank Gehry to see if he is still alive (he is!).
Jewish content is woven through the text. Frank has warm memories of his grandmother baking challah and allowing him to sculpt shapes with the dough, and the carp that she turned into gefilte fish reappears in the many fish motifs he used in his designs. Additionally, the antisemitism he encountered in both Canada and California prompted him to change his name from Goldberg to Gehry, although he remained conflicted about this decision. In the back matter, we learn that he believes that the Talmud encouraged his curiosity and wonder.
This book provides an interesting look at the creative process--the sources of inspiration, the repeated attempts, the doubts, the risk-taking--that could be a springboard for a discussion on this topic for parents, teachers, and librarians.
This children's biography of Frank Gehry will teach your child the meaning of the word "undulate," the location of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, and the lasting burdens of family trauma: "He thought I was a dreamer," the fictional Frank opines of his father. "He didn't think I would amount to anything." Yes, it's very intentionally precocious, but it's also a winning exploration of the architect's life and work. Blumenthal finds charmingly childlike language to describe buildings that often reduce onlookers to jargon: Bilbao's Guggenheim museum, in her words, is a building with "billowy blanket walls, big enough to hide a family of dinosaurs." She focuses on childhood moments that influenced his later work, like molding his grandmother's excess challah dough into different figures. But she also takes on adult topics, like Gehry's decision to anglicize his surname to avoid antisemitism in his profession. Recommended for any kid in need of new facts for the dinner table.-- (5/22/2022 12:00:00 AM)
In its own vivid and colorful pages, Frank, Who Liked to Build: The Architecture of Frank Gehry (by Deborah Blumenthal with illustrations by Maria Brzozowska) focuses on the professional accomplishments--with some attention to the Jewish influences--of the famed architect and longtime California resident, who was born Frank Goldberg in 1929. Among other tidbits, readers learn that "Jews faced prejudice in Canada, where he grew up, and in Los Angeles, where he went to architecture school," prompting him, unhappily, to change his surname to something less identifiably Jewish.-- (5/1/2022 12:00:00 AM)