Living Large: Reading Group Questions
- Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason came from drastically different backgrounds and had very different personalities. Yet, they blended their lives together quite successfully. What were the strengths that each of them brought into their long-term relationship? The weaknesses?
- Do you think that Nan’s father, Dan Mason, had an influence on the development of Wilna and Nan’s relationship? If he hadn’t “adopted” Wilna as another unofficial “daughter” in 1920, would the girls’ relationship have developed as quickly or as passionately? Or would it have developed at all?
- Both Wilna and Nan spent most of their lives working as artists. Looking over the illustrations of their artwork in Living Large, do you think that one of the women was more talented than the other? Is it difficult to make such a choice? Why?
- Which of their artworks do you like the best? What is it that appeals to you about the pieces you most admire? Do you see any persistent themes in the work of either woman?
- If you could ask either Wilna or Nan to give you private art lessons, with whom would you choose to study? Which artistic genre would you pursue? Painting? Drawing? Enameling? Photography? Graphic design? Something else?
- If you were invited to one of Wilna and Nan’s famous “Full Moon” parties, what would you wear? What would you bring to the party as your contribution to the evening’s fun and festivities?
- If Wilna and Nan were alive in today’s world, do you think they would get married? Try to imagine what their wedding would be like. Where would the ceremony be held? Would there be a theme? Would their pets be involved?
- If friends asked you, “What is Living Large about,” what would you tell them? Would you recommend it? Why?
- Are there lessons to be learned from the life histories of Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason? What do you take away from having “met” them?
If you haven’t already done so, click here to watch and listen to author Joseph P. Eckhardt talk about Living Large in the book trailer.
Under the North Light: Reading Group Questions
- As you look through the illustrations in this book, what favorite books do you recall from your own childhood? Why do you think those particular titles have remained with you? Something in the illustrations? The story? Some theme that resonates?
- Maud and Miska Petersham came from very different backgrounds, and had very different temperaments and approaches to work and life. As you think about the story of their lives and as you look at their work, what do you feel brought them together? What held them together?
- Not many couples have the joy and challenge of both living and working together. Not since the family farm, or some small “mom-and-pop” business, had this arrangement been common. As to creative and scientific collaborations like the Petershams’, we think of the Curies in science, the d’Aulaires and Provensens in children’s books, the Eames’s in design. But such couples are rare. Have you known a couple that knitted together work and life? What do you think were the secrets of their success?
- Maud and Miska wrote and illustrated several very patriotic books in the 1940s (see chapter 6). How is their patriotism demonstrated? How does their love and appreciation for America express itself in ways different from the manner in which we hear the term “patriotic” used today?
- The nonfiction books that Maud and Miska wrote and illustrated (see chapter 5) were among the very first illustrated nonfiction books for children. They present a great deal of information in a concise way that is also designed to draw children in, as if to a story. What strikes you about these books, and about their careful research? Do you think children today have access to such carefully researched informative books or other materials?
- Maud commented that the four books the Petershams wrote and illustrated in the 1930s (Miki, Auntie andCelia Jane and Miki, Get-A-Way and Háry János, and Miki and Mary: Their Search for Treasures) told the story of their lives. They drew heavily on autobiographical material, both of Maud and Miska’s separate childhoods, then of their lives together. As you read their life story, how do you see it illustrated in the sample pages of these books? How much do you think most writers use their life stories as a basis for fiction, either adult or juvenile? Can you think of any examples?
- Maud and Miska were fortunate in being able to make a good living with their art, and in being able to contribute to the advancement of illustrated children’s books. But sometimes Miska expressed sadness about not having been a fine artist—a painter. What do you think is the difference between illustration and art? Is there a difference?
- Maud and Miska illustrated many stories from the Bible, both old and new testaments. From the examples in this book, how might you speculate about their spiritual or religious life? Which, if any, of the Bible story picture resonates for you—either surprising you or reminding you of something familiar?
- The Petershams have something to teach us—both through their work and through the way they lived their lives. As you come away from this book, what do you think will stay with you the most strongly? What is the first thing you will tell a friend about the book?
You will also enjoy the video interview made by Stephen Blauweiss with author Lawrence Webster at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum. In this short film Webster discusses the work of the Petershams and the exhibition that she curated, “Inspired by the North Light: Maud and Miska Petersham.” This very popular exhibit ran from October 6 to December 31, 2012.