Maya Lin – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Title: Maya Lin, Artist-Architect of Light and Lines-Designer of the Vietnam Memorial

Author: Jeanne Walker Harvey

Illustrator: Dow Phumiruk

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books, 2017

Ages: 7-12

Themes: artist, architect, biography, Vietnam Memorial, women


In the woods by her childhood home,                                                                                         Maya Lin played with her brother                                                                                                 and explored and climbed the many rolling hills,                                                                           one she named the Lizard’s back.


As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Goodreads)

Why I like this book:

Not being American, I had no idea about this art-architect’s story. I like how the author begins with Maya as a young child in a home of creative parents who didn’t put limitations on their daughter in contrast to the restrictions they themselves had experienced before fleeing China.

Young listeners will be as surprised as I was to discover that Maya was still a student when she sent her anonymous application in 1420 other entries for the competition to be the architect of the Vietnam Memorial. They will also be perturbed, as I was, to learn that when the judges and others discovered her identity, there was much resistance. Because she was young? A woman? Child of an immigrant? Her bravery and refusal to back down is extraordinary. I loved the details about her naming so many of her creations, often with words from nature.

Dow’s artwork mirrors the shaping of the artist and her work, as well as her early influences and her sensitivity to the natural world. It shows careful design as befits a biography of an architect. Peace and awe emanate from the illustrations, just as one experiences in visiting the great memorial.


I am grateful to Goodread’s reviewer, Angela, for the recommendation of pairing this biography with the picture book, Talking Walls by Margy Burns Knight and Anne Sibley O’Brien, which introduces young readers to different cultures by exploring the stories of walls around the world and how they can separate or hold communities together.

Don’t miss my interview this week with the illustrator, Dow Phumiruk.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

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8 Responses to Maya Lin – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. I didn’t know who designed the Vietnam War Memorial, even though I’ve visited it! What a powerful story of determination and bravery. The Memorial is beautiful, but the back story about the artist is really inspiring for women. I’m glad her story is being shared in this beautiful book.

  2. Joanna, this is a touching book and the pairing sounds interesting. thanks you for giving me two books to find at my next library trip. I have meant to check this one out – draw by the cover – but I haven’t done so yet. Now I have even more incentive to do so. Thanks.

  3. Talking Walls is wonderful! (and on my bookshelf along with its great teacher’s guide) This pairing can start a great exploration of “walls” and memorials, springboarding into all kinds of literary and artistic expression.

  4. Dow Phumiruk says:

    Thank you for reviewing our book, Joanna! I’m so happy that you enjoyed it (and that you shared many of the same feelings that I did in reading the manuscript for the first time). I hope Maya Lin inspires kids and adults to go for it: to set out and accomplish what they might not think possible.

  5. I knew someone would beat me to it with this pick – but not surprised considering the interview this week!

  6. It took me all day to clear time to see everyone’s picture book reviews, and after reading yours, I wish I had made time this morning so I could have driven to the library to check out Maya Lin and Talking Walls. Maya is a truly remarkable young lady, and I’m looking forward to reading her story.

  7. This story sounds fascinating and I’m sure my girls will enjoy hearing it. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Patricia Nozell says:

    I had no idea about the backstory of the Vietnam Memorial. I look forward to reading this one & Talking Walls. Great review!

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