While wandering BookExpo America last week, struck with the sheer number of illustrated books and comics-medium stories being told, one of the ones that stood out the most was published by Tundra Books and I was lucky enough to get the last sample copy.
It’s called The Man Who Made Parks: The Story of Parkbuilder Frederick Law Olmstead. As the title suggests, this biography of an essential figure in the history of parks in the United States introduces young people to the idea of park planning and how cities have evolved into their current form.
This book about Olmstead, “North America’s first landscape architect”, is written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Song Nan Zhang in highly-detailed colored pencil drawings.
Born in New England in 1822, Olmstead worked in a number of careers, not unlike Walt Whitman, working as a surveyor, a sailor, a farmer, and more. After a period of ill health and going on a walking tour of England with his brother, Olmstead encountered his first planned park in Liverpool and was struck by the elegant sense of it.
After a period of working as a reporter on different civil and social issues in the USA, Olmstead encounter a man who was interested in building a large park in New York City. Hired as the super-intendent, Olmstead helped drain and clear the land for this undertaking.
The story of Central Park’s origins is key to this book, but it also reminds readers of Olmstead’s work in Washington DC designing the grounds around the US Capitol, working in Monreal, Quebec, Niagara Falls, and even his key role in having Yosemite declared a National Park.
This picture book introduces young readers to the idea of park building and the concepts behind appreciation of nature that have never been more relevant than they are today. Encountering this book at BookExpo America reminded me of how essential books can be in staging conversations that help shape the future.
You can find out more about The Man Who Made Parks here with Tundra/Penguin Randomhouse.