Sometimes lives that appear beautiful from the outside, are not so beautiful on the inside. At least they didn’t start out beautifully.
Such is the case for a baby girl named Elsa, a girl instead of the boy her parents had wanted. A girl who is named after a nurse in the hospital, because her parents had not selected one for her. A girl they call “brutta,” not “bella.” A girl who considers herself ugly, in a world filled with beauty, including a beautiful sister and vibrantly colored flowers.
This girl tries to make herself beautiful by planting seeds inside her nose and ears and mouth, so she will become a bouquet of flowers. Instead, the seeds make her sick, and it takes two doctors to remove them.
But there is one seed they cannot remove, Elsa’s “seed of wild imagination.” An imagination that dares to be different in a world of sameness.
This biography shines a light on a daring young woman who overcame her parents’ contempt, who was married briefly, became a single mother, and still continued on her artistic path to become a sought after fashion designer in the 1920s and 30s and beyond. One who created colors called Shocking Pink and Ice Blue. One who rejected ideas about what constituted femininity and boldly combined materials like leather and lace (long before Stevie Nicks sang about it), wool and cellophane, tree bark and velvet! Strong and famous women like Amelia Earhart, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich wore clothes she designed.
This woman who once felt so ugly she made herself ill trying to become a flower, found that she could plant seeds of beauty in myriad other ways, and free herself “from Mamma’s harsh words and Pappa’s judgment.”
Written in first person perspective (so technically, not nonfiction), the author captures this young woman’s energy and determination, and effectively weaves in quotes from Schiaparelli’s autobiography.
The illustrations alone are enough to bring me joy, filled with flowers whose stamens are actually legs wearing fashionable shoes on their feet, while others are dancing women or the heads of women wearing fashionable hats. Truly inspired.
Three pages of back matter include more details about Schiaparelli’s contribution to fashion design and a bibliography, including the sources for quotes used in the narrative. Make sure you take a look under the book jacket. The undies are another floral treat.
Use discarded boxes, gloves, socks, and other old clothing you might have to make into surprising hats. Get inspiration by looking at these silly hats.
Pair this book with Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer.
Spread a little beauty by sprinkling wildflower seed in your garden or in dirt patches around your neighborhood. Pair this activity with the classic flower planting book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney.
Adults (and some kids) may be interested in checking out today’s Schiaparelli haute couture designs.
Title: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli
Author: Kyo Maclear
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2018
Ages: Elementary school
Themes: fashion design, self esteem, flowers
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.