In many ways, the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's life is a very grown-up tale. Yet in many other ways, author Bob Kann says, the famed architect's life story is perfect for children.
"Kids build treehouses, kids take a blanket and put it over a chair, kids built forts with snow, they build with Lincoln Logs," Kann said.
Learning that some of the nation's most famous structures and homes were built from designs by a boy from Wisconsin only adds to the appeal. Kann's new book, "Frank Lloyd Wright and His New American Architecture" ($12.95) is the latest release in the Wisconsin Historical Society Press' Badger Biography Series aimed at grades 4 through 8.
Several recent, high profile Wright books have centered on the architect's personal life and the scandals and tragedies around it, such as T.C. Boyle's "The Women," Nancy Horan's "Loving Frank" or William R. Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House."
Kann's book has to touch on topics such as the murders at Taliesin, but it mostly brings the story back to Wright's work.
"It's a question you can ask about anybody today: How important is somebody's personal life when you are judging his work?" said Kann, who lives on Madison's East Side. "With kids, I think it's even less relevant. It's a balance the Historical Society and myself were striving for, to highlight what seemed to be the most instructive parts of his life for kids."
To do that, Kann challenges young readers with questions such as "How would you feel if your mother decided before you were born what you were going to be when you grew up?" (as Wright's did) or has them wonder about how you build a hotel that would survive an earthquake or a home on top of a waterfall.
"Any time you enter an environment you can think, ‘Why did they build this house this way? Why is the ceiling this particular height?'" he said. "Every environment you can ask the question."
Kann is a former UW-Parkside education professor who switched to an entertainment career. He is a juggler and storyteller, does presentations for adults and children. He first became familiar with Wright's work through performances he did as the architect in an educational program at Taliesin.
This is Kann's third book in the Badger Biography Series. His first was about Lizzie Kander, whose cookbook helped young Jewish immigrant women in the early 20th century. He followed that with a biography of Bob and Belle La Follette.
This summer, Kann will publish another book in the series, written with his wife, Caroline Hoffman. "Cindy Bentley: Spirit of a Champion" looks at the life of a Milwaukee woman who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and suffered severe burns when her clothes were set on fire by a foster mother. She went on to become the U.S. Special Olympics Athlete of the Year and a board member for the Wisconsin Council for Developmental Disabilities.
"She's the only person I know who can pick up the phone and call the Kennedy family," Kann said.