Art & Max: Another Wiesner Winner

Art & Max by David Wiesner

I always approach a new Wiesner book with huge expectations.  I mean, this is the three-time Caldecott medalist!  I guarantee this will not disappoint, no matter how high your expectations are.

Arthur is quite a painter.  He does portraits of lizards as they pose for him.  Max wants to learn and Arthur is willing to teach him.  The first step is Max figuring out what to paint.  Arthur grandly suggests that Max could paint him.  So Max does exactly that, with deep blue and bright yellow, he paints Arthur right in the face.  Arthur gets cross and bursts free of his paint-filled skin only to find that the colors have stayed and now his skin is chalk and pastels.  When a blowing fan won’t fix it, Arthur takes a drink of water to feel better.  It erases his color, leaving just a line drawing behind that Max quickly unravels.  Now it is up to Max to figure out how to get Arthur back.

Wiesner’s only text in this picture book is Arthur and Max’s dialogue with each other.  The illustrations really tell the story.  Wiesner has a great sense of comic timing from the first spurt of paint onto Arthur all the way through to Max rebuilding him in a very simplistic style.  The moments are ones that will have young readers and listeners laughing out loud.  As they are enjoying the story, they are being taught about the way that different media react, work and appear.  It is a very skillful and clever introduction to art styles and formats. 

Exceptionally, the book is also about creating art yourself.  It is about a painter with his own distinct style working with a younger artist.  It is about restraint meeting freedom.  About creativity and letting loose and what happens when you do.  It is a book that has many layers, several of them from paint.

A colorful, dynamic picture book that embodies what it is also conveying.  This picture book needs to get in the hands of your art teachers, children who enjoy art, and anyone looking for a good laugh.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Clarion Books.

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White Cat – Dark and Delightful

White Cat by Holly Black

Curse working is illegal because it can so easily be misused and disguised.  Curse workers are able to change your memories, give you good or bad luck, change your emotions, and even change you into something else.  Cassel comes from a family of curse workers who continue to use their gifts illegally.  His mother is currently in prison because she worked someone’s emotions.  His brothers work for one of the crime bosses.  Cassel has deliberately created a life separate from his family.  But he can’t run from the fact that he killed his best friend a few years ago.  Cassel can’t do curse work but that doesn’t stop him from pulling a con.  At his private boarding school, he is a bookie for all sorts of bets.  But things start to fall apart when Cassel wakes up on the roof and can only remember following a white cat in his dreams.  The school sends him home and requires him to see a doctor before he returns.  As Cassel tries to find a way to game the system and return to school, more odd things start to happen, leading Cassel to figure out exactly what his mobster family has been up to. 

Holly Black has created a great mashup of mobsters and fantasy.  In this compelling novel, she has given us a clever and twisted world that is well-built and completely brought to life.  A large piece of her success is her protagonist.  Cassel is charming, intelligent and easily cons readers into liking him.  Thanks to being an outsider in the crime world, he is a great way to introduce readers to this skewed and amazing world that Black has created.  Equally successful is Black’s pacing and story.  The action sequences are inventive and taut, they are contrasted effectively with the slower, subtler moments of the novel.  It is beautifully constructed. 

A crime spree of a novel, this book will have readers clamoring for the second one in the Curse Workers series as soon as they finish the first.  Don’t handle this one with kid gloves!  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

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2010 PEN USA Literary Award Winners

The PEN Center has announced the 2010 PEN USA Literary Award Winners and Finalists.  They have several categories.  Here are the winners for Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Winner:

Paul Fleischman: The Dunderheads

Finalists:
Kate DiCamillo: The Magician’s Elephant

Benjamin Alire Saenz: Last Night I Sang to the Monster

Liz Garton Scanlon: All the World