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The Children's Bookshelf: I Am I.M Pei - August 1, 2022

I am I. M. Pei written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, the 38th biography in the Ordinary People Change the World Series, is a fascinating look at the career of this world class architect. There are surprises throughout the book including a beautifully constructed pop up.

The story begins in China where I.M. Pei was born in 1917. His father was a banker, and his mother was a poet and flutist. When he was just a young boy his mother took him to the mountains to meditate. There is a beautiful double spread illustration of mother and son listening to what the silence has to reveal.

When he was 10 years old the family moved to Shanghai where he saw his first tall buildings such as the Park Hotel. This structure had an impact on him. Some seven years later he went to the United States to study to be an architect at such places as MIT and Harvard. Even though he didn’t feel that he had enough drawing skills he learned very important things toward his development such as understanding the significance of both using simple materials and having a reason behind whatever you build.

His career was awesome! This includes his design of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the new Louvre Pyramid in Paris, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to name just a few. His philosophy can be useful to all readers: “Never stop looking at things from different points of view. Keep your eyes and ears open to the world, and your mind open to new ideas.”

I am I. M. Pei written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos is a terrific biography for readers 6-9 years of age. They will also enjoy the pop-up of the Louvre’s grand entrance and all of the problems that the architect Pei solved by looking at things from a different perspective (Dial Books for Young Readers/imprint

of Penguin Random House, 2022).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for I am I. M. Pei

Architect Pei was born in China in 1917. When did Pei move to Shanghai? What did he see there that influenced him to become an architect?

In the back materials Pei says, “Success is a collection of problems solved.” How does this wisdom relate to his building of the Louvre Pyramid? Go back to that part of the story and reread the list of problems that needed to be solved when he took on the job of updating this age-old museum. How many years did it take him to accomplish his work? Can you imagine working on a problem for that length of time?

Older readers: Look online for more material about another creative accomplishment by Pei namely the design of Cleveland Ohio’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Pei said that it was his intention that his design would “echo the energy of Rock and Roll.” From pictures that you find online do you think his design intention was met? Parents and grandparents can help.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.