first drawing

The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein

This picture book tells the story of how drawing first started.  Inspired by the the 30,000 year old paintings in caves in southern France, the story focuses on one boy who sees the world differently from everyone else.  When he looks at the clouds, he sees animals.  Everyone else just sees clouds.  When the firelight flickers on the walls of the cave as they go to sleep, he sees herds of beasts.  No one else does.  So he gets the name “Child Who Sees What Isn’t There.”  He tries to explain what and how he is seeing things, but it isn’t until he picks up a charcoal stick from the fire and actually draws the lines he is seeing that others can see it too. 

Beautifully told, Gerstein weaves the story of these caves into an exploration of how artists see the world in a unique and powerful way.  By choosing very tangible examples of how artists see, children reading the book will quickly realize that they are artists as well.  It is also helped by the use of  second person narrative, so that children are identified as the child who invented art.  The author’s note explains more about the caves as well as why Gerstein was inspired to tell the story of a child drawing. 

Gerstein’s art is bright and large.  He shows large swathes of sky filled with clouds, lands filled with animals, and makes sure that readers see the inspiration for the later art.  This contrasts with the tight closeness of the fire-lit cave that is all dancing flames and stone walls. 

A virtuoso picture book, this is a wonderful melding of history, possibility, and art.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.