An artist sees things others don’t see; notices lines and colors, patterns and shapes; mixes imagination and insight and observation.
Murnau Street with Women by Kandinsky
The originality of the artists in these stories — real and fictitious — coaxes us to look at our world afresh as this new year begins.
Remy and Lulu, written and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, with miniatures by Hannah E. Harrison
published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf
Remy is a portrait painter who strolls about the French countryside looking for subjects. Plagued by poor eyesight, Remy exults in painting what he calls the “essence of a person” rather than her likeness.
This does not often please his customers.
Accompanying Remy is a little stray dog, Lulu. Lulu has acquired expert art training over the years, unbeknownst to Remy. One day she seizes an opportunity to paint a miniature portrait of a subject’s pet pig. Lulu’s painting is precise and perfect, sitting in an obscure corner of Remy’s large portrait.
Suddenly, everyone wants to sit for Remy…and Lulu. Remy is thrilled, until he discovers that the dog’s artistry is what all the fuss is about. How can Remy recapture his own artistic vision? Can he and Lulu find a way to live and make art together happily?
This clever story contains a lively mix of art, humor, and friendship. Hawkes’ bold paintings of Remy and his Expressionism/Cubist artwork are a blast of color and motion. Meanwhile, Hannah Harrison provides Lulu’s awesome miniature paintings — dashing, aristocratic portraits of dogs and cats in regal clothing.
Great fun for ages 4 and up.
Draw, a wordless book by Raúl Colon
published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Part of this boy is indoors, lounging on his comfy bed, leafing through an oversized volume of African wildlife. He’s got a sandwich against hunger. His inhaler rests on the nightstand, ready for breathless moments. More importantly, a sketch pad lies in wait…
…and that’s what sweeps the much bigger part of this boy right out of the house and onto the plains of Africa. When he starts to draw, his imagination is so big, it blasts right through book covers, tunnels through walls, rockets across oceans, to bring him face to face with…
…an elephant. Glorious and massive and smart. He recognizes himself in the boy’s drawing and rewards him with a perch high on his wrinkly back. They lumber deeper into the golden African savannah where they find…
…zebras. Lovely and stripey. As his safari continues across the Serengeti plains, he meets and draws more magnificent beasts, until it’s time to bid the elephant a tender goodbye, return to the ordinary world, and share the fruits of his imagination with others.
Raúl Colon’s illustrations are superb in every single book he illustrates. His exquisite use of color and texture, his creamy line and steady composition, are always, always beautiful. This solo-effort is based on his childhood, which he describes in his Author’s Note. Imagination and art have been a huge part of him since he was a young boy, and you should not miss this fabulous tribute to both. Ages 3 and up.
The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Danielle is a charming little French girl who loves to draw. Her father, a photographer, takes pictures of elegant 19th-century Parisian ladies and gentlemen strolling along the Seine.
Danielle’s father likes photographs because they portray what is really there. Danielle’s drawings, on the other hand, swirl with fanciful animals — birds in top hats, goats in pointy-toed bedroom slippers, crows and cats and giraffes adorned in outlandish bonnets.
Her father chides Danielle for her foolishness, but she can’t seem to keep these imaginative creatures out of her artwork. This makes Danielle feel like rather a feeble artist. It takes a family emergency and a chance meeting with one Madame Beton for Danielle and her father to come to terms with their very different ways of seeing.
This story is dear and refreshing. Danielle’s whimsical drawings, delivered to us in Barbara McClintock’s delicate lines and subtle colors, are utterly charming, as are all these lovely old Parisian scenes of cobblestone and lamp posts, Pissaro-esque winterscapes and period fashions.
Be sure to read the author blurb to find out McClintock’s connection with this story, a treat for ages 3 and up.
Viva Frida, written and created by Yuyi Morales, with photography to Tim O’Meara
published in 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
You get a double-dip of artistic vision in this highly-original take on Frida Kahlo by award-winning artist Yuyi Morales.
Frida had a unique way of seeing the world and herself, and a way of expressing it which was exotic, vibrant, intensely personal, strange, honest, surreal, painfully real.
Yuyi throws convention out the window as well to reveal her vision of Frida, composing elaborate scenes using her handcrafted puppets and scenery. Kahlo’s familiar face, the foliage and monkey that crop up in her self-portraits, and her husband, Diego Rivera, all appear, along with tropical parrots, papel picado, a Day of the Dead marionette, and other elements of her Mexican world, all set against throbbing-bright green and blue backgrounds. You have never seen anything quite like this.
The text, in Spanish and English, is extremely brief; just a sentence, really, conveying Kahlo’s growing realization that her purpose, her essence, is to create. To truly live with joy, she must create. I think that is true of Morales, too.
An Author’s Note reveals more about Kahlo’s struggles, though nothing beyond what a young elementary child can manage, and the inspiration Morales’ has derived from her. Truly, I don’t think young children will really know much more about Kahlo from reading this book, though they may well recognize her face and monkey and style if they see her work in a museum later on which is always exciting.
More, I think the book opens up possibilities of creativity and imagination. The thirst to create, the way Morales sees Kahlo, and the imaginative way she brings that to the page, are wonderfully open, which in turn will inspire the experimentation, imagination, and expression of their own unique way of seeing, we hope for from our children. Ages 3 and up.
The First Drawing, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
What if you were a child tens of thousands of years ago?
What if you lived in a cave, say in the south of France?
What if you could close your eyes at night, and see inside your head the muscular reindeer, sleek horses, burly mammoths you sometimes saw in daylight hours?
Might you see those same shapes in clouds?
Might you recognize them in the shape of a rock or the uneven surfaces of the cave walls?
What if you suddenly picked up a charred stick and drew what you could see inside your head on the wall of the cave?
Mordicai Gerstein imagines a scenario in which a child’s imagination and way of seeing confound the adults in his cave community, until he creates a drawing for them, for the first time in history. Springing from the Chauvet Cave drawings in France, and the footprint of a child also found in the caves, Gerstein wonders if a child led the way in the birth of drawing.
Of course, the artistry of these ancient drawings is magnificent, not a child’s scrawl. Gerstein takes pains to point this out in his Author’s Note. The beauty of this book is the way it reveals the artistic imagination, the way one sees what another may not, and the way drawing reveals our insights.
It’s a wonderfully child-friendly story with a super-likeable cave boy, great for sharing with ages 4 and up.