Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 11, 2016

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois

Using a river in France as a frame, this picture book by Amy Novesky shows how artist Louise Bourgeois grew up helping with the family textile business, then made art until she died in 2010 at age 98. I love reading picture book biographies of strong women, but what makes this stand out is the way the not totally linear plot grows from the strength Louise got from her mother, as well as lessons in craft, form, and color. Like her mother before her, Louise’s mother repaired tapestries. Louise began this work at twelve, drawing in parts of the pictures that had worn away. Since tapestries got most worn at the bottom, she “became adept at drawing feet.”


The book quotes her as writing: “My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.” The text conveys all of this. A focus is on spiders, who not only work with threads as Louise and her mother did but gave them a philosophy: if webs get broken, spiders weave and mend.

Louise studied mathematics at the university in Paris, but after her mother’s death turned to painting, weaving, and sculpting giant spiders from bronze, steel, and marble. She created cloth people, books, and spiders from old clothes she cut and changed.

The story is quiet and deep as the beautiful river painted by Isabelle Arsenault, its blue reflected in the endpapers. It’s a soothing and sometimes sad book, with careful words and the artist’s rendition, using a red, black, and indigo palette, of the imaginative way Louise sees the world from early on. I’ve read Cloth Lullaby several times the way I come back to poems, and each time the book inspires me with both a sense of possibility and of how the past weaves into the background, but is never gone.

Amy Novesky’s other picture books about women artists include Imogen, Georgia in Hawaii, Me, Frida, and Mister and Lady Day. Isabelle Arsenault’s work includes illustration of books about Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson.



  1. Thank you for bringing attention to this book. I hadn’t heard of it, and, after your review, can’t wait to read it.

    • Yes, it’s just out. I hope you like it as much as I do!

  2. So nice to hear your thoughts about this book. Looks really lovely and I can’t wait to read it.

    • Hmmm, should be served with this? Madelienes or macarons?

  3. Jeannine–I fell so in love with Isabelle Arseneault’s cover that I bought this sight-unseen and I was not disappointed! The first page took my breath away–the writing is just so gorgeous and as flowing as the river, and the art is absolutely stunning.

    • Oh, good to hear! That gorgeous cover nabbed me in a shop. I read one line and knew I must bring it home. A perfect pair up of creative writer and illustrator.

  4. This sounds like a lovely book, Jeannine – I shall have to order it.

    • Your library must be spectacular! This book was one I loved just reading, but also it would be a pleasure in the classroom opening ways to see mothers and daughters, art making, the history of spiders and weaving, biography as lyric and more!

  5. I’m enamored of the wisdom of spiders mending their work, and how we might too! I will look for this one, Jeannine. Thank you! xo

    • With your love of art, and lyric, I think you’ll like this.

      Of course there’s no one like Charlotte, but another lovely picture book is Sophie’s Masterpiece: A Spider’s Tale by Eileen Spinelli illus by Jane Dyer.

      Thanks for stopping by during your busy April, and congratulations on Fresh Delicious and When the Sun Shines in Antarctica!

  6. Oh, this book sounds tailor-made for me! I’m always amazed at the way some writers (like you) are able weave research findings & their own imaginations into a singularly beautiful story. (PS The cover’s gorgeous, too!)

    • Yes, I love a life done in 32 pages, and this has strands that wander off. Of course there is an issue with what’s left out, too, that one struggles with some. Lives are complicated — but I think there’s some sense of that here within the blues of the art.

  7. I did not know about this book, so exciting to learn about it


    • It’s a lovely tribute to the long work of an artist!

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