Arlene Alda Biography (1933-)
Before marrying actor Alan Alda in 1957, children's author and photographer Arlene Alda was an accomplished clarinetist who began playing in high school, studied music in Europe on a Fulbright scholarship, and then joined the Houston Symphony. Although she essentially gave up her professional music career to raise her children, she supported her struggling young husband in the early days of his acting career by giving private clarinet lessons and playing in obscure suburban orchestras.
According to an article in McCall's magazine, both Aldas believe that "for a relationship to work happily, you need two whole, self-fullfilled people." In 1967, Arlene Alda took a course in photography, and the venture proved successful. Since her first efforts in the medium, Alda has gone on to exhibit her work in galleries, to contribute photographs to national magazines, and to write books that showcase her photos. For one project, the film The Four Seasons, the entire Alda family contributed their talents. Alan Alda wrote, directed, and starred in the film, while the two youngest daughters acted in it. With the assistance of the eldest daughter, Arlene Alda supplied wacky vegetable photographs to appear as the work of an obsessive photographer. She remained on the set during the film's shooting and snapped pictures documenting its making. She eventually published her behind-the-scenes observations as On Set: A Personal Story in Photographs and Words.
Alda's books for children showcase her photography. Some reviewers have expressed a particular fondness for her pictures of animals. "Alda clearly possesses the skills to bring out every endearing quality of her animal subjects," claimed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. In Arlene Ada's ABC, Alda discerns the shape of letters of the alphabet in her photos of ordinary objects; for example, the letter A may be detected in her photograph of a yellow sawhorse. The book "contributes a fresh look at commonplace, usually unnoticed things we find around us," according to reviewer Janice Del Negro in Booklist.
The photographs in Arlene Alda's 1 2 3: What Do You See? depict the shapes of the numbers one through ten within the contours of objects and animals. Examples include using the stem of a leaf to make the number "1," a banana peel to form the number "3," and a bagel cut in half to form an "8." There are also notes from Alda explaining what each object is and how the numbers were formed.In her Horn Book review of Arlene Alda's 1 2 3, Lolly Robinson remarked: "As she did in Arlene Alda's ABC, the photographer has kept the images and the format simple and accessible." Patricia Pearl Dole, a reviewer for School Library Journal, praised the "great imagination" exhibited in these photos, calling Arlene Alda's 1 2 3 "a unique, challenging concept book." "This wonderful book," wrote David J. Whitin in Teaching Children Mathematics, "will help students recognize numerals and explore their own environments for other numerical shapes."
In other works for children, Alda incorporates a simple, rhyming text to accompany her photos of animals as seen from a child's viewpoint. In Sheep, Sheep, Sheep, Help Me Fall Asleep, a child who cannot go to sleep closes her eyes and begins a search for some sheep to count to help her in her pursuit. Instead she finds a bevy of other animals. When she finally comes upon some sheep, more and more sheep appear, and the book becomes a counting exercise. "Alda's breezy rhyming text and arresting photographs make this a most engaging bedtime read-aloud," suggested a critic in Publishers Weekly. Likewise, in Pig, Horse, or Cow, Don't Wake Me Now, Alda's rhyming text recounts the early morning chain reaction of waking on a farm. A peacock calling for his morning corn begins the process of awakening a variety of animals culminating with a cat intruding on young Scott's sleep. Scott is dreaming and wants to linger under the covers a while longer, but his mother coaxes him out of bed and down to breakfast to begin another active day. "Early risers and sleepyheads will . . . have fun identifying the barnyard friends," claimed Mary Harris Veeder in Booklist.
In 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life, Alda provides the photographs to illustrate a text written by Linda Granfield. The book tells the stories of four immigrant families who came to America from different countries and at different times but who all lived on New York City's Lower East Side. In this area of tenement buildings, new immigrants found cheap housing. Over the years, a number of ethnic groups have passed through the Lower East Side as they first lived in the area because it was inexpensive, then moved out to better places when they had established themselves financially.
97 Orchard Street, New York focuses on four such familes: the Gumpertz family came from Prussia in the 1870s; the Rogarshevsky family came from Lithuania in 1901; the Jewish Confino family came from Greece in 1914; and the Baldizzi family came from Sicily in 1924. Despite their differences in background and language, the new immigrants faced many of the same challenges in their new homeland: finding work, learning a new language, and getting their children educated. "Their stories are not romanticized"; Rhonda Cooper wrote in Kliatt, "rather, the reader sees and feels the hardships and trials the succession of new immigrants endured." The book ends with information about the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, a place offering guided tours of the kinds of dwellings talked about in the books.
Alda returned to documenting the lives of early immigrants in New York's Lower East Side in her book Morning Glory Monday, illustrated by Maryann Kovalski. The story is set during the 1930s and tells of a young Italian immigrant girl who is worried about her mother, who never smiles. The poverty of their home in New York's tenement district during the Depression makes her mother homesick for her native Italy. When the girl wins a packet of morning glory seeds at a fair, she decides to plant them in the window box to cheer up her mother. The pretty flowers do make her mother happy. But as time goes by, the flowers spread from the window box throughout the neighborhood, magically transforming the whole area into a lush garden and lifting the spirits of everyone. Alda's story is based on a real event during the Depression when a group of tenement residents decided to brighten up their neighborhood by planting flowers on all the fire escapes. Gillian Engberg, reviewing Morning Glory Monday for Booklist, praised Alda's "spare, simple language" which "offers a glimpse of tenement living and an immigrant family's yearning." According to Rachel G. Payne in School Library Journal, "The cheerful tone and fanciful plot will enchant readers." The critic for Publishers Weekly called Morning Glory Monday an "inspiring picture-book portrait of immigrant life."
Alda told Ashanti M. Alvarez in the Record that her own grandchildren were a "constant source of information and inspiration" for her. In addition, she explained, "I love to make kids laugh."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1992, p. 518; January 1, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of Arlene Alda's ABC, p. 829; October 15, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Pig, Horse, or Cow, Don't Wake Me Now, p. 434; Januaary 1, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Morning Glory Monday, p. 872.
Dallas Morning News, September 11, 2002, Nancy Churnin, review of Hurry Granny Annie.
Horn Book, November, 1998, Lolly Robinson, review of Arlene Alda's 1 2 3: What Do You See?, pp. 708-710.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1994, p. 1522; September 1, 2003, Morning Glory Monday, p. 1119.
Kliatt, March, 2002, Rhonda Cooper, review of 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life, p. 34.
Plays, October, 2001, review of 97 Orchard Street, New York, p. 70.
Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1992, review of Sheep, Sheep, Sheep, Help Me Fall Asleep, p. 60; October 10, 1994, review of Pig, Horse, or Cow, Don't Wake Me Now, p. 69; Seotember 22, 2003, review of Morning Glory Monday, p. 104.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), July 9, 1998, Ashanti M. Alvarez, "Author's Reading Opens Library Jubilee," p. L3.
Resource Links, October, 2003, Denise Parrot, review of Morning Glory Monday, p. 1.
School Library Journal, December, 1998, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Arlene Alda's 1 2 3, p. 98; January, 1993, p. 73; December, 1994, p. 71; November, 2003, Rachel G. Payne, review of Morning Glory Monday, p. 88.
Teaching Children Mathematics, October, 1999, David J. Whitin, review of Arlene Alda's 1 2 3, p. 129.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (October, 1999), "Meet the Kids' Author: Arlene Alda."*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) BiographyArlene Alda (1933-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights