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The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright

Telling the tale of one of the most celebrated and complex architects of the 20th century is no easy task. By identifying nature as Frank Lloyd Wright’s principal source of inspiration and highlighting select projects, author K. L. Going and illustrator Lauren Stringer succeed in rousing the interest of young readers in Wright’s life and work.

The twofold narrative depicts the architect in his infancy and then expands on his productive life, emphasizing his childhood interest in the world that surrounded him. By inviting readers to observe nature with fresh eyes, the story comes to life as an invitation to perceive the world differently.

The Shape of the World, published this year by Beach Lane Books to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the architect’s birth, highlights curiosity and imagination as foundational elements for Wright. By focusing on young Frank’s childhood interactions with and observations of his surroundings, the book celebrates his appreciation for the complexity and the beauty of the world and his ability to integrate them in his own work. The illustrations become key to the unfolding of the narrative by weaving together Wright’s design motifs and his inspirations. Stringer straddles the pictorial and creative tracks of the story and situates us at the core of Wright’s designs without compromising the playfulness of her style.

The story also makes a strong connection between Wright’s mother’s influence and his interest in archi-tecture. As the story unfolds, one longs for a slower exposition of at least one of his projects, before the narrative arc pronounces Wright’s life work as transformational.

The mixed-media illustrations are inspired by his work, and three sets stand out: one that depicts natural elements (raindrops, lightning, the river) by qualifying their attributes, another that combines many of Wright’s window-pattern designs, and a set that superimposes three buildings — Hanna House, Johnson Wax Headquarters, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum — with elements of nature. Stringer transcends the descriptive in those sets and offers hybrid images, whimsically fusing nature and architecture in ways that are credible and engaging to young readers.

In addition to rendering a compelling portrait of Wright as an architect, the book becomes an invitation for exploring the world and channeling those observations into acts of creation. Going’s emphasis on the combinatory nature of form, discovered through play, validates a child’s ability to make deductions that span the abstract and the natural and connects a young mind’s cogitations to her tangible surroundings. The capacity to marvel at nature’s complex beauty is not lost on adult readers, either, who might enjoy experiencing the venerated American architect through the book’s simple words and charming illustrations.

Panels from The Shape of the World, written by K.L. Going and illustrated by Lauren Stringer.
Images: Courtesy Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing