Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J.L. Powers, illustrated by George Mendoza and Hayley Morgan-Sanders
George loved to move, so he decided to be a basketball player. Then one day the world outside looked red to him and he started to see other colorful squiggles in the air and suffer from constant headaches. The doctor told him that he was going blind, but George didn’t lose all of his sight, instead he continued to see bright colors and flashing lights. He had to stop playing basketball because he could no longer see the basket. Eventually, George took up running, mostly because it made him so tired that he could forget being blind. He could run very fast, so fast that he went to the Olympics, twice. But George continued to see a world of colors that no one else could see. It wasn’t until a friend was killed that he started to ask himself why he was there, and George started to talk about being blind to groups and also to paint the world that he sees.
A truly inspirational story, Mendoza is an example of someone being incredible resilient in the face of a life-changing disability. The fact that he began to run after losing his sight is amazing and also inspiring. But it is his visions and his art that shine on the page, a world painted in colors that only he can see. The process of George becoming an artist is shown in all of its slow progression which also gives the sense that there is time to find your path, time to be the person you are meant to be.
Seeing his paintings on the page is immensely powerful. They are bold and bright, done in thick lines. They have a voice to them that shouts on the page and they tell the story of what George sees more clearly than any words can.
Highly recommended, this picture book biography is a powerful tale of resilience and overcoming barriers. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from pdf received from J.L. Powers.
Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison
Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy. The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work. He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style. Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses. Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it. Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening. What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?
This is a wonderfully rich picture book. The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds. It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance. Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart. Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy. They are a solid pair.
Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work. Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s. The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself. It’s a delight.
Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
Released August 19, 2014.
Even as a child, Edward Hopper lived as an artist. He spent his days drawing as much as he could, preferring drawing to playing baseball with the other boys. After high school, he headed off to New York City to study art. Then Hopper went to Paris to learn even more, spending time painting outside. When he returned to the US, he got a job as an illustrator for magazines, but wanted to spend time painting what he wanted to, not for others. He started painting old houses in his work and after getting married he spent time wandering the countryside on Cape Cod, finding scenes that moved him and they weren’t the typical images of gardens and farms. He also painted things in the city that spoke to him. Eventually the critics and galleries discovered Hopper and he gained attention, but it didn’t change him, even his final work speaks to his unique vision and approach.
Burleigh has written a book about an important American painter but even more than that, he has captured the small things that made him great. The book speaks to the importance of allowing yourself time to learn a craft and getting an education. It also speaks to staying true to yourself and your vision whether it is accepted at the time or not. And then there is the importance of perseverance and following your dream even if it doesn’t make a lot of money. Hopper teaches all of this in his quiet way.
Minor’s artwork shines in this picture book. He brilliantly captures the feel of Hopper’s work without copying it directly but these images are also clearly Minor’s own as well. Pictures of some of Hopper’s most famous work is shared at the end of the book and it is there that one realizes what a profound mix of two artists’ work has happened here.
A very strong addition to the growing collection of picture book biographies about artists, this book has much to offer budding young artists as well as art classes. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Wendell Minor.
The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley
This graphic novel memoir focuses on one idiotic idea that changes comic-creator Gownley’s life forever. At 13, Gownley was on top of the world. He was popular, getting great grades, and was top-scorer on the school basketball team. Then he got chicken pox and he had to miss the championship game. But that wasn’t the end of his bad luck, he followed the chicken pox with a bout of pneumonia and missed more school. Soon Jimmy wasn’t a basketball star and his grades were getting bad. Jimmy did have one thing going for him though, the dumbest idea ever! It was an idea that would make him money, get him popular again, find him a girlfriend, and even impress a very stern nun. And let me tell you, it takes one amazingly stupid idea to accomplish all that!
Gownley reveals how he became a cartoonist in this graphic novel. It is cleverly done with a strong story arc that keeps the entire book sturdily structured. Gownley has a wonderful self-deprecating humor that works particularly well in comic format. His humor is smart and very funny, often conveyed with ironic twists of eyebrows or sarcastic facial expressions. The book is a quick read thanks to the format but also to the fast pacing that will have readers happily turning page after page.
Get this into the hands of Smile! fans who will appreciate the humor, the honesty and the art. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Enter the amazing world of abstract art with this picture book biography of Kandinsky. Vasya Kandinsky was raised to be a very proper young Russian boy. Then his Auntie gave him a box of paints and he started to hear colors as sounds. No one else could hear the sounds, but to Vasya they were a symphony that he could paint. Vasya grew up and stopped painting. He still heard the colors around him, but he was going to be a lawyer. When he attended the opera one evening, Vasya saw the colors emerge from the music and was never quite the same again. He became a painter and tried to meet everyone’s expectations, but to be happy he had to paint in his own way, an abstract one.
Rosenstock’s biography is very successful, focusing on Kandinsky as a child and younger man. She doesn’t speak down to children at all here, instead bringing them up to her level and demonstrating what abstract art is, showing the struggle of an artist trapped in the wrong life, and finally beautifully displaying what a life well-lived looks like. She celebrates the transformation from lawyer to artist, from conventional to unique. This book joyfully exposes how we are all different from one another and how those differences can be incredible if allowed to sing.
GrandPre’s art is glorious. She shows what Kandinsky must have seen when hearing the opera and what he heard when the colors spoke to him. The music of the paint box and the noises that emerged for him are shown in flourishes of sound, bringing Kandinsky’s synthethesia vividly to the page. Her art is filled with motion when Kandinsky’s art is being expressed and then dims down to the staid and quiet when he is trying to conform.
Beautiful and choice, this picture book biography is one of the best. Get this for elementary art classes, museum visits, and young artists. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
When Henri-Emile Matisse was a young boy, he longed to make art the way his mother did. So he drew as much as he could and then painted after receiving paints as a gift. But when he was on old man, he had to remain in bed or a wheelchair and didn’t have the energy or ability to paint. As he recovered, Matisse started to draw and then picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting paper. Matisse started a second phase of his art career with assistants who painted pages for him to cut from, dreams of the shapes to cut out, and surrounded by the bright colors of his art. He created a garden that he could visit right from his bed.
Winter starts with Matisse as a boy finding art and quickly moves the book to his paper cutting phase in the latter part of his life. For a picture book biography, the text is very simple yet conveys his great attachment and gift for creating art. It also speaks to the creative process and trying new things that fit with life’s limitations.
Winter fills her book with bright colors both in Matisse’s art itself but also as the backgrounds to her images. When Matisse is without art, the book becomes dark yet star-filled. As he returns to creating pieces, the book lightens and blossoms visually.
A very successful picture book biography, this book will be welcome in elementary and preschool art classes. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer
This graphic novel takes real journals, collages, lists and drawings to show the author’s transitional first year of college. Ramsey grew up in very small Paw Paw, Michigan. She was an artist from a young age and worked very hard at it, earning a spot in one of the top art schools in the country. This meant moving to Baltimore and making new friends for the first time since she was a young child. It also meant that she would no longer be the best artist around, she would be challenged as an artist in her classes, and she would have to find her own way in this new setting. Beyer’s novel shows the difficulties and triumphs of a freshman year of college, and is sure to encourage other little fish to try their luck in the big city.
Beyer’s use of her own personal real-life work that comes directly from that time in her life makes this entire novel work. It carries a weight that it would not have without that honest voice of youth at its core. The mixed media format also makes the entire book compulsively readable. Since you never know what is on the next page or what format it might be in, there is a constant desire to find out more and read longer.
Beyer’s art is done entirely in black and white in the book. She plays with light and dark throughout, capturing both the loneliness of the first days at college and also the dynamic friendships and love interests that come later. Her work is humorous and yet poignant.
This is a very strong, dynamic look at the first year of college. Teens will enjoy looking into their own future plans with a little laughter and lots of optimism. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet and One Extraordinary Riot by Lauren Stringer
This is the story of how two Russian artists collaborated to create a revolutionary new ballet, The Rite of Spring. When the two artists met one another, each of them started to change. Stravinsky’s music changed and Nijinsky’s dance changed. They inspired one another to try something entirely new and created a ballet based on Russian folk dances and folk songs. Even at rehearsal, some of the musicians walked out, but enough stayed so that the show could go on. When the ballet was first performed, the crowd was split. Some people loved the new music and dancing, others were shocked and hated it. The crowd took to the streets to continue to express their anger and appreciation. This is a great picture book biography that captures the magic of creativity that results when two masters collaborate on something brave and new.
Stringer’s writing takes a complicated story and distills it to the most important points. Young readers will quickly understand that the two men brought new ideas out of one another, finding each other inspiring. Her art also speaks to the collaboration of these two men, using flowing lines and deep yet soft colors. She inserts elements from the art of the time, referencing movements like cubism in both her text and art. The end of the book has photographs of the two artists and dancers in the ballet. It also has a longer look at their collaboration.
A great choice for art and music classes, I’d recommend listening to The Rite of Spring with the group too. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look and Meilo So
This is a picture book biography of Wu Daozi from the T’ang Dynasty, who is considered China’s greatest painter. As a child, Daozi is taught calligraphy, but his brush does not want to just create Chinese characters. Instead, he creates the first stroke and then turns it into an animal like a fish or a horse. Daozi began to paint on walls, painting so fast that his sleeves opened like wings, gaining him the nickname of Flying Sleeves. He painted every day and people began to leave coins for him that he donated to feed the poor. As time passed, his skills grew even greater until the creatures he drew and painted became alive and left the flat surface of the walls. He was then commissioned to paint an entire wall for the emperor, a project that took him many years. In the end though, he created an entire world on a wall, one that you could almost walk right into.
Beautifully told and illustrated, this picture book biography takes a playful tone right from the beginning. The sense that Daozi was not in control of his own gift makes for a wonderful insight into the drive and talent of artists and the way their talents can control them. It is also a tribute to the skills gained by doing what you love and practicing a tremendous amount. Daozi’s work and its lifelike quality is captured through a magical transformation to life in the story, making this feel much more like folklore than a biography.
Look’s text will work best for elementary-aged children, as she tells the story of hard work and talent combined into something spectacular. They will also be more likely to understand the juxtaposition of biography and magical realism that is in the book. Her writing is clear and lingers in all of the right moments and moves quickly when those moments are right too. So’s illustrations are a tribute to Chinese art. Done with clear brushstrokes, they also have fine details and small touches that make them shine.
This is a very impressive biography of an incredible artist that few children will be aware of before reading this book, making it perfect to share with children in art classes. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House via Edelweiss.