A Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Written by: Evie Robillard

Illustrated by: Rachel Katstaller

For ages:  8-12 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: LGBTQ Relationships, Artists, Writers, History, Historical Figure.

Summary: 

This book is gorgeous in text and illustrations, telling a life overview of art collecting writers Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The two women were popular in artistic social circles, and had a beloved dog named Basket.

I like this book in the way it integrates quotes from Stein’s written works, and mentions almost immediately that the two women were partners. The pair had many adventures and an impressive art collection while they lived for many years in Paris. This book is unique in that nothing big in particular happens, there’s no central conflict that must be resolved. The story just introduces the reader to Gertrude and Alice, and with the direct integration of Stein’s work, we feel closer to the women rather than reading a dry history text. It’s so important to read stories about successful, happy, LGBTQ couples from history. Just as importantly, is the additional information in the back which provides historical context about WWII, painting confiscation, and that some of their friends were Nazi sympathizers (and some worked actively against the Nazis). It does us no good to sweep these details under the rug, and I appreciate the author giving more historical information in the back, and a timeline of events with a list of sources. Overall, an excellent read with lovely illustrations to spark anyone’s interest in Paris life at the turn of the century!

This book was kindly sent to us by Kids Can Press, but all opinions are our own!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

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Evie Robillard fell in love with Paris on her very first visit in 2001. Soon after that, she began reading every book she could find written by or about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas — two American women who met after moving to the City of Light in the early 1900s.

Evie is a former children’s librarian; before that she had a humorous newspaper column; before that she was a non-traditional (adult) student at UW-Green Bay and UW-Madison; before that she was a stay-at-home mom who loved reading to her children (and writing); before that she was a kid in a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Her very first job was helping her big brother deliver the local paper.

Evie’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was born in France; he was orphaned at a young age, and King Louis XIV sent him to Nouvelle-France around 1664. About 200 years later, her great-grandfather walked from the Trois-Rivières area of Quebec down through Michigan and Illinois and then into Wisconsin, carrying her grandfather (who died before she was born) in his arms.

Evie writes for both children and adults. Her early picture books and her children’s play — What Harold Was Afraid Of — are now out of print. She’s the mother of two grown sons — one a sports photographer, and one a punk-rock star. Nowadays she divides her time between her Madison, Wisconsin, apartment and her dear friend Michael’s nearby farm.

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Rachel Katstaller is originally from tiny tropical El Salvador, where she studied Strategic Design.

After a period in New York, where she attended the Summer Residency in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts, Rachel relocated to the Alps together with her cat Hemingway.

Rachel now works for several international publishing houses concentrating on children’s books, editorial illustration and creating vibrant and unique illustrations for brands. She also has her own apparel brand, Las Furias where she channels her passion for skateboarding.

Hemingway still remains skeptical about the cold weather and lack of palm trees to climb.

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