Many immigrants have come to America to fulfill their dreams. Dream Something Big: The Story of the Watts Towers by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011) retells the story of one notable Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia.
To his neighbors, he was an illiterate man who kept to himself and had an odd hobby of collecting odds and ends from other people’s garbage. For 34 years (1921-1955), he used thousands of these discarded items to build 17 major structures on his lot in Watts, California. Without any known plans or sophisticated machinery, he made the base of his sculptures out of structural steel covered with mortar. Each tower was decorated with colorful mosaics composed of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery, and special tiles.
His artwork ultimately became a U.S. National Landmark.
Dianna combines the background of Simon’s work with a fictionalized story. The intriguing tale is seen through the eyes of a young girl who makes candid remarks about her neighborhood and the work that Uncle Sam (Simon) does. Simon’s character is brought to life and the reader sees how he creates folk art. Children will enjoy listening to the well written story and admiring the illustrations as they wonder about their own potential. An author’s note provides additional facts.
The award winning and talented illustrator, Susan, capitalizes on the artistic feel and texture of Simon’s work. By using mosaics and collages, the pictures have a rich texture that relates back to the structures. The illustrations complement the artistic message of the book.
Learning about the accomplishments of talented individuals can inspire students to look for their hidden talents. Dreams can become reality when people are motivated and determined.
- Determination and perseverance
- Striving for a goal; listening to your inner voice
- Overcoming handicaps and obstacles associated with being an immigrant
- Conserving resources and utilizing them in a constructive way
- Uses for collages and mosaics
- Using an historical event to create a story
- Researching and reporting on interesting events and people
- Creating collages or mosaics
- Can your class work together to create something unique and long lasting?
Dianna Aston says
Thanks for finding the worth and inspiration is this book. When I do school presentations, children often ask which of my books is my favorite and this one is it. It came about in a highly unusual way. An editor at Dial whom I didn’t know got in touch with me and asked me to write it, a kind of book I’d never written — a biography. Trying to capture his life and motivation was difficult. He was an elusive spirit to channel, but he became my hero. I always tear up on the last sentence.
This is the book I want children to read and hope they’re inspired by it, so thank you so much for blogging about it. I hope DSB finds a receptive audience that’s inspired by his accomplishment.
Sandra Bornstein says
I am so glad that you were willing to share some background information about the writing of DREAM SOMETHING BIG. Being asked to write about an intriguing character can be a challenging task. Children will definitely be inspired by the story you crafted about Simon Rodia’s life.