Tag Archives: laura tabbut

picture books as “flotation devices”

A couple of Saturday nights ago, my dude and I strolled around, peeking into art galleries in Chinatown here in Los Angeles. I love the contemporary art scene on Chung King Road, but I didn’t expect to find anything directly related to my love of picture books. And then I did. Laura Tabbut life vests Laura Tabbut‘s show, “Flotation Devices,” at Exhale Unlimited gallery consisted of child-sized life jackets hung on the wall. But they weren’t just life jackets. Laura cuts apart classic children’s books and affixes them to each flotation device.

PingThe Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese. (1933). 

There’s so much to love about this idea besides how cool they look as an installation:

*The way book jackets and life jackets relate as physical objects.

*And especially the way books can actually serve as flotation devices for kids (or adults). Lifesavers. Things that help us tumble along on the water instead of sinking.


SendakMaurice Sendak life jackets.


My literary flotation device as a child was Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel. No question. Did you have one? Or more?


Here’s what Laura Tabbut has to say about the origin of “Flotation Devices”:

“…This spring, my family was in the middle of selling our lake home on a tiny lake in Wisconsin. I took a break from packing books into boxes…Kayaking must be psychologically soothing, because in that small space of time in the boat, I was able to relive many fantastic summer memories, most of them with books. During our summers, we’d play on the lake all day, eat dinner, and then crash with a book in the evening. For my family and many friends this repeated pattern of playing and reading balanced our introverted and extroverted lives. It also shaped us uniquely as individuals, because the books we read informed our life choices.”

1986pelicanlakeLaura in a life jacket as a baby. 

WaterwingsI love that she fell asleep with those floaties on.

    “So the flooding of all of those memories sparked this idea that reading can be a life saver. After I finished paddling around the lake, I went to put away my equipment in the boat house and pulled out a few very haggard children’s life jackets that I could cut up to use for patterns.”

1990pelicanlakeBooks AND a float!   And here’s Laura on her childhood flotation devices:

“As a child, I initially struggled with reading. I am an auditory learner and developed hearing issues during Kindergarten. But by the end of first grade I was reading fluidly. As an adult I look back at that time and realize how that struggle was critical to who I am today. As a teacher, I am constantly reminded of the value of getting kids to read or be interested in books at an early age.”


Laura’s flotation devices as a child included:

“The Velveteen Rabbit; The Runaway Bunny; The Josefina Story Quilt; A Birthday for Frances (Laura got Frances as a nickname because of this book!); Don’t Forget the Bacon!; The Wind Blew; Amelia Bedelia; Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport; Caps for Sale, A Tale of a Peddler, and Some Monkeys & Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina; Little House on the Prairie.”


EmptyPotThe Empty Pot by Demi (1996). 

“When I was asked to show at Exhale Unlimited in Chinatown, I was also asked to use some Chinese children’s literature in my work. So I called my friend Beth, who is currently getting her PhD in Literacy and had taught for a couple of years in China to see what her recommendations would be.”


DragonPrinceThe Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty & the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep and Kam Mak (1997). 


Laura Tabbut vests with guest-1 “I had already created the Maurice Sendak life jackets; those were the first jackets to be at the gallery. For me and for many, Sendak’s children’s literature taps into my wild primal urges and desires. Sometimes these urges contrast with the ‘safety’ of a life jacket.”


If you’re in the L.A. area, Laura has another show exploring banned books for Banned Books Week at APU until September 26.


Here’s to books continuing to keep us afloat and to putting literary flotation devices in little hands!


Thanks to Laura Tabbut for images!