This picture book biography tells the story of George E. Ohr, a potter in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was well known for his eccentric personality; he would pose for fake photography and while on trips would demonstrate his skill at the potter’s wheel while blindfolded. While Ohr was relatively popular in his own time, he never achieved great commercial success or acceptance in the art community. He eventually retired from the potter’s life, and long after his death, his pottery was rediscovered, and George E. Ohr was recognized as a master of ceramic art.
The authors have published many children’s nonfiction books, some of them recognized and honored by the ALA, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, and the Siebert committee (Jan Greenberg Sandra Jordan 2015). The book contains a thorough bibliography and appears to be accurate, keeping to facts about Ohr’s life and reputation. The illustrations all feature either Ohr or his artwork.
The book is generally categorized as a biography, so the chronological layout was logical and easy to follow. Quotes by or about Ohr are set in large, stamp-like letters, making them stand out to the reader. The chapters marked changes in Ohr’s life, and the table of contents made navigating the book simple. Additional reference aids in the back of the book include a section on the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art that was established in Biloxi, a section on how to observe and talk about ceramics as art, as well as a section on how to form one’s own pottery. Additional notes and photo credits are also included and organized by page number.
The design of the book is eye-catching, both the cover with its photo of Ohr’s memorable beard and the layout of the various fonts and photos inside. There is a sense of flamboyance to the book that Ohr would probably have appreciated, but the style contributes to the story without detracting.
The style of the text uses good vocabulary, a wide range without being deliberately opaque. The authors are clearly enthusiastic about both Ohr’s story and his artwork, and the text seems to designed to encourage further inquiry into both Ohr and ceramic art. The only obvious fault is the addition of extra information that, while interesting, does not particularly enhance Ohr’s story, such as the long description of Ohr’s first shop and the summary of the events of the Civil War.
The Wall Street Journal called the book an “appealing account…full of strangely endearing photographs, including one of the mad potter tucking his fists behind his crossed arms to show off his biceps” (The Mad Potter “Reviews” 2015). The Horn Book review commended the authors on producing “magisterial portrait that’s both a character study and an appreciation of their subject’s oeuvre” (The Mad Potter “Reviews” 2015).
Robert F. Sibert Award – Honor
ALSC Notable Children’s Books
Capitol Choices Noteworthy Titles for Children and Teens List
2014 NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Title
Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
Kansas William Allen White Award Master List
CCBC Choice (University. of Wisconsin)
Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
School, Library Journal, Best Books of the Year 2014
Booklist, Editor’s Choice 2014
AFTER THE FIRE: GEORGE OHR, AN AMERICAN GENIUS by Eugene Hecht
GEORGE OHR: THE GREATEST ART POTTER ON EARTH by Eugene Hecht, Phillip H. Ennis, Denny Hubbard Mecham, and David Rago
THE MAD POTTER OF BILOXI: THE ART AND LIFE OF GEORGE E. OHR by Garth Clark, Robert A. Ellison, Eugene Hecht, and John White
What better activity could enhance the experience of reading THE MAD POTTER more than pottery? If a pottery wheel is inaccessible to you, try painting some pre-made pots, even mixing your own paint like George Ohr!
Greenberg, Jan, and Sandra Jordan. 2013. The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius. New York: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 9781596438101
Jan Greenberg Sandra Jordan. Accessed October 8, 2015. “Home.” http://www.jangreenbergsandrajordan.com/index.html
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius. Accessed October 8, 2015. “About the Book.” http://www.jangreenbergsandrajordan.com/pages/books/george-ohr/index.html
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius. Accessed October 8, 2015. “Reviews.” http://www.jangreenbergsandrajordan.com/pages/books/george-ohr/reviews.html
Pottery-166797_1280. Accessed October 8, 2015. From Pixabay. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/pottery-potter-learning-hands-166797/