Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities

Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities

by Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen

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An engaging, kid-friendly exploration of America’s leading architect and his work

This revised and updated edition of a longstanding classic, Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids, details the life, times, and work of the celebrated architect. Through simple, kid-friendly prose and anecdotes, author Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen describes the influences of Wright’s Wisconsin childhood filled with nature, music, and close family ties; his struggles to find work as a young architect; the unique style that led him to the top of his profession; and masterpieces such as the Robie House, Hollyhock House, Fallingwater, the Guggenheim, and many others. Also discussed are Wright’s sometimes controversial private and public life and the people and times that influenced him and vice-versa, with new sidebars on topics such as the Chicago and Bauhaus schools of architecture, Friedrich Froebel and his toy blocks that enchanted Wright as a child, and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Budding architects will delve into architectural and design concepts while having fun through 21 hands-on projects, such as creating an edible model of Fallingwater, making a miniature Japanese kite, reading an architectural plan, and much more. A time line, glossary, bibliography, and list of houses to visit are also included.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613744772
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Series: Chicago Review Press For Kids Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
File size: 18 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen is an author who specializes in writing and designing books and websites for museums, historical sites, and educational organizations. She is the author of Greene and Greene for Kids, The Huntington for Kids, The Sustainability Book for Kids, and many others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids

His Life and Ideas

By Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2014 Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-477-2



IN 1866, DAIRY FARMS and small towns dotted the gently rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin. In the tiny town of Richland Center, Anna Lloyd Jones married William Carey Wright, a widower with three children. The next year a son, Frank Lloyd Wright, was born to Anna and William. The date was June 8, 1867.

William was a man of many occupations. He was a powerful speaker, a minister, a talented musician, and a lawyer. Even so, he had trouble earning enough money to support his new wife and four children. By the time Frank was a toddler, his father had taken a job as the minister of a church in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and moved the family there.

In Massachusetts two more children were born, and the size of the Wright family grew to eight. There were many mouths to feed, and church work did not pay well. William was unhappy. He ignored his family and retreated to what he enjoyed most — music. He often stayed up all night playing and composing music on the piano. Young Frank loved his father's music, but Frank's mother Anna secretly planned that the boy would one day be an architect.

In 1876 the Centennial International Exhibition, a celebration of the 100th birthday of the United States, opened in Philadelphia. Many new inventions were presented at the fair. Some familiar ones are Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, Heinz ketchup, and Hires root beer. About 10 million visitors attended the fair, including Frank's mother. Anna was trained as a schoolteacher and one exhibit especially interested her — an exhibit of the work of educator Friedrich Froebel. Froebel had developed an educational play set of children's blocks called the Froebel Gifts. Anna thought that the blocks would be the perfect gift for nine-year-old Frank. They would teach Frank that the big shapes of buildings can be made from the small parts of his blocks.

Frank loved his new toy. There were many different things in the package his mother gave him. He found polished maple blocks in the geometric shapes of cubes, rectangles, cylinders, pyramids, cones, and spheres. He found brilliantly colored, shiny papers for covering the blocks, and little green spheres and straight sticks for joining the blocks into simple structures. While playing with his blocks he learned that everything is made from basic geometric shapes. The shapes can be hidden within the outer shape of an object, but they are there just the same. Later in his life he said, "The maple-wood blocks ... are in my fingers to this day."

Learning to Love Music and Nature

When Frank was 10 years old, his father gave up his work as a minister. He moved his family back to Wisconsin and opened a music school in Madison, the state capital. Frank and his younger sisters, Jane and Maginel, shared Mr. Wright's love of music. The family often gathered together in the evenings to sing and play instruments.

The return to Wisconsin brought Anna closer to her family. The Lloyd Jones family had emigrated from Wales in search of farmland and religious freedom. They found both in western Wisconsin. The family, sometimes called the "Almighty Joneses," was a powerful force in the area.

Frank started working on a Lloyd Jones family farm at age 11. The summer work on the farm was so hard that Frank actually counted the days until school began again in the fall. After all, even school was better than working on the farm, where he had to get up at four o'clock in the morning, feed the pigs, milk the cows, weed the garden, and help in the fields. A very tired Frank fell asleep immediately after supper. Twice he tried to run away, but both times his uncles found him and brought him back. The uncles reminded Frank that the Lloyd Jones family had a motto: "adding tired to tired and then adding it again," which meant to Frank that he had to work until he was tired and then work some more. "Work is an adventure that makes strong men and finishes weak ones," they told Frank.

Fortunately there was Sunday, the high point of the week for Frank. On Saturday night he heated water on the wood-burning stove and took a bath in a small tub. On Sunday morning he put away his dusty, dirty farm clothes, took his city clothes out of the closet, and dressed for church.

The large, clannish Lloyd Jones family had built their own church, and Uncle Lloyd Jones was the preacher. When the weather was good the family gathered for a picnic after the service. Frank loved these happy family Sunday festivals. He was free to eat, sing, play, and listen to the stories his father and uncles told.

Life on the farm was not all bad because Frank was close to nature. He loved the low, rolling hills of the Wisconsin prairie. He learned the magic of growing things. He saw the colors in nature change from one season to the next. He watched seeds sprout and grow into plants. One day Frank spotted a red-orange tiger lily in a green field. When he became an architect, he signed every drawing with a small red square that always reminded him of the beautiful tiger lily in the green Wisconsin field.

Frank felt surprise and delight when he found the simple shapes of his Froebel blocks hidden in nature. Tiny green spheres appeared when he snapped open a long, smooth peapod. Pulling back the rough husk from an ear of corn exposed the straight rows of square yellow kernels hiding inside. Feathery green carrot tops showed him where he could find plump, orange triangular carrots growing underground.

His respect for the simple beauty of nature grew with every passing year. Frank learned to see patterns in the freshly tilled soil, in the layering of rocks, in the ripples of water, and in the moving clouds. He noticed the structures of the trees, plants, and spiderwebs. He studied shapes repeated in insects and animals. He learned to see that nature hides the basic shapes of the circle, square, and triangle within the outer shape of everything. This was the same lesson he learned from his Froebel blocks, and he never grew tired of it. Later in his life, these lessons would give him the ideas he would use to create his own style of American architecture.

A New Direction

By the end of his fifth summer on the farm, when Frank was 16, everyone treated him as an adult. The hard farm work had given Frank self-confidence and the strength he needed to face the misfortune he found when he returned home. Fewer and fewer students wanted to study music with Mr. Wright, and he had to close his music school. Feeling he was a failure, Mr. Wright left his home and family. Of course, Frank was very angry with his father, but later in his life he could at least be grateful that his father had inspired his love of music.

The Wright family was especially short of money after Mr. Wright left, but Mrs. Wright still wanted her son to be an architect. However, when Frank finished high school, there were no architecture schools in the Midwest. Frank's mother saved enough money to send him to the nearby University of Wisconsin for classes in civil engineering — the next best thing to architecture. He found his classes dull but enjoyed working afternoons in his professor's office, where he was able to work on real engineering problems.

The huge dome on the Wisconsin state capitol building was being rebuilt when Frank was a student. One day, while he was watching, the entire dome collapsed, killing most of the workers. The building contractor was responsible. He had given orders to the workmen to fill the supporting columns with inferior materials. Frank was horrified that this mistake killed so many. He vowed to make every one of the buildings he designed strong and safe.

Frank dropped out of school after less than a year. With just seven dollars in his pocket he set out to seek his fortune in Chicago.



IT TOOK MANY HOURS to travel from Madison to Chicago in 1886. The long train trip gave Frank a chance to think about the fine buildings he would see. Chicago's architects were taking the lead in developing new architectural ideas.

Tallest Buildings in the World

The tallest office building in the world, designed for the Home Insurance Company by Chicago architect William Le Baron Jenney, was finished in 1885. Frank wanted to learn more about Jenney and his fellow architects Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan, who had created a special style of architecture for Chicago. Frank admired these men because they were using new technology — experimenting with a steel skeleton construction that gave their buildings extra strength and made it possible to build them higher than any other buildings in the world.

Because Jenney and Sullivan wanted their buildings to show the steel skeleton construction, they made the outside of their buildings the same shape as the steel skeleton inside. Large windows filled the outside walls and there were few decorations. These Chicago architects felt the height and simplicity of a building was its beauty.

Their buildings were the first skyscrapers, and this new style of American architecture, nicknamed the Chicago School, excited Frank. He dreamed of working for one of these great men, and he dreamed of wearing fashionable clothes and seeing everything the city had to offer.

Frank was disappointed when he arrived in Chicago. The city of his dreams was a mess of muddy, unpaved, dimly lighted streets. These streets were filled with strange-looking people speaking languages he could not understand. To his country eyes, everything was unfamiliar and was ugly, dirty, and depressing. He wished he were back home.

However, he did not stand around feeling sorry for himself. He had come to Chicago to learn about architecture and he meant to do exactly that. Since there were still a few hours left before bedtime, he set out to see the city sights. First, he spent one dollar to see a ballet at the Chicago Opera House. Then he rode a cable car around the city. Finally, he treated himself to a good meal. After paying for one night's stay at a hotel, he was left with three dollars in his pocket. Frank had been in Chicago only a few hours and already more than half of his money was gone. He was worried, but he did not lose confidence in himself. He made a plan: the next morning he would buy a bunch of bananas and save money by eating only bananas until he found a job.

City of Opportunity

Chicago was growing from a town into a city when it was almost completely destroyed by a gigantic fire in 1871. Because Chicago was the best port on the Great Lakes and the center for the new railroads, the city was rebuilt quickly. There were plenty of opportunities to make money in Chicago and many people became very wealthy. These people needed factories, offices, and homes, and they kept every architecture office busy. There was no better place or time for an energetic young person who dreamed of being an architect to look for a job. However, finding a job takes time, and Frank was short of time because he was short of money.

Finding a job was a discouraging task. Frank was turned down at every architecture office he visited. Sometimes he was asked to come back in a few weeks. That was encouraging, but Frank could not wait that long. He had already grown tired of eating bananas.

Finally, he tried the office of architect J. L. Silsbee. He had put off applying there because he knew Silsbee was designing the new All Souls Church where his uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, was the minister. Frank was in a dilemma. He desperately needed a job and telling Silsbee he was the nephew of an important client would help him get one, but he didn't want to get the job just because he was related to the minister. Later Frank would say that he never said a word about his uncle to Silsbee, and Silsbee never guessed who he was. Silsbee was impressed with Frank's courage and self-confidence and hired him for his own merit.

Frank had a job, but he still had money trouble. It would be one week before he was paid, and the money in his pocket would not last long.



CECIL CORWIN, ANOTHER YOUNG man who worked in Silsbee's office, noticed that Frank looked worried. Cecil guessed he was hungry and treated him to a simple meal of corned beef hash at a nearby restaurant. From that day on, whenever Frank was really hungry, nothing satisfied him like corned beef hash.

A New American Architecture

Frank and Cecil shared an interest in music, books, and architecture. They enjoyed working together and spent their free time walking the streets of Chicago studying in their own outdoor school of architecture. They especially admired the buildings designed by Louis Sullivan, which were simple shapes with large main entrances framed by gigantic stone archways. Around the archways and at the top of each building was a band of sculptured decoration. The decorations reminded Frank of the plants and flowers he loved on the farm in Wisconsin.

Frank admired Silsbee, but he was soon discouraged by the quality of the work he was doing. He complained to Cecil that they were just making pretty pictures to show Silsbee's clients. The buildings Silsbee constructed never looked like the pictures.

Cecil reminded Frank that architects have to be practical. They need to keep making money, so they build what the clients ask them to.

That's not honest, countered Frank. He was remembering an old Welsh motto his uncles had taught him: Truth against the world. Frank felt strongly that people must do best what they know how to do, not just what they are told to do.

When Frank heard that Adler & Sullivan's office was advertising for a new draftsman, he wanted the job. Sullivan, he thought, was an honest architect. Frank applied for the job, refusing to speak to anyone but Sullivan himself. Sullivan, who never took time to talk to young draftsmen, finally came out to look at the drawings Frank had traced at Silsbee's office. Sullivan was not happy with the work, but he liked the enthusiastic young man and gave him one week to prepare new drawings. After working late into the night for several days, Frank showed Sullivan the new drawings. He was hired.

Frank started work in Sullivan's office with one definite idea about architecture. He thought a new country needed a new style of architecture. Most of the buildings that surrounded him were copies of buildings that had been built in Europe hundreds of years ago. He admired Louis Sullivan because, more than any other architect, Sullivan was creating a new American architecture.

Frank worked hard in the office all day and then stayed after work to share ideas with Sullivan. Often, they talked about William Morris, an Englishman who encouraged artists and architects to work with their hands. Morris believed the shapes found in nature would lead to a new, honest style of architecture. Sullivan explained his "organic whole" architecture where the parts of a building fit together in harmony the same way musical notes work together to make beautiful sounds. Sometimes they talked about Henry Hobson Richardson, a Boston architect who influenced Sullivan.

Within a short time, Frank was calling Sullivan his Liebermeister, which means "beloved teacher" in German. Soon, Sullivan moved him into a special office right next to his own, and they worked together on Chicago's new Auditorium Theatre and on the Transportation Building for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

Finding Love

One evening, Frank and Cecil went to a costume party. Frank, who loved dressing up in costumes, dressed as a French army officer carrying a sword and wore a fancy shirt, tight pants, and high boots. Imagining himself to be very handsome, he dashed across the room to greet some friends. On the way, he knocked over a tall, beautiful young girl with red hair. Frank introduced himself as he picked her up. The girl, Catherine Tobin, was amused with him and the two soon became close friends.

When they asked for permission to marry, both families refused. However, Frank and Catherine were determined and they finally won out. Many people at the wedding cried. They cried because they were happy for the couple, but they also thought that they were too young for the responsibilities of marriage. Frank was 21 and Catherine was 18.


Excerpted from Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids by Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen. Copyright © 2014 Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Time Line,
12 Final Years,
Frank Lloyd Wright Houses to Visit,

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Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Theyre the best
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
New Camp Jupiter. <br> Steampunk RP. <br> Fantasy/Kingdom RP. <br> Pirate RP. <br> New school RP. <p> [ Again, post other RP ideas over this. ]
Anonymous More than 1 year ago