Review: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.

The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.

This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Graphix.

Review: Picturing America by Hudson Talbott

Picturing America by Hudson Talbott

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott (9780399548673)

In this picture book biography, the life of artist Thomas Cole is explored. It begins with his early years in England and his love of drawing. He and his sister explored the area they lived in, looking for new things to draw. But when the Industrial Revolution came, it brought hard times for his family. So Thomas moved to America where his family settled down in Steubenville, Ohio and opened a workshop making decorative items. Thomas handpainted many of them. When he saw a book of fine art for the first time, his dream was born. He went on the road, selling his portraits. He eventually got a patron who sent him on a journey up the Hudson River where Thomas painted the wilderness. Soon his paintings were the toast of New York City. Thomas went on to travel to Europe and was inspired to paint a series of paintings about the fall of an empire. Thomas continued to capture the spirit of America and founded his own school Hudson River school of painting along the way.

Talbott tells the complicated story of Cole’s life with a refreshing ease. He has a real clarity in the story he is telling, keeping the tale focused on the results of Cole’s early struggles and then when he obtains success on the new inspirations Cole found on his travels. The book reads well and Cole’s story demonstrates tenacity and resilience as he followed a winding way toward being well known. It is also the story of a young America, what it said to a young immigrant and how its wilderness was worth preserving.

The illustrations combine a friendly lightness even during Cole’s struggles with Cole’s own paintings. It is a treat to see his actual paintings as part of the book. They are hinted at in other sections, but when it truly is his own they are dazzling. They demonstrate firmly why his art caught on and he became a famous painter.

A particularly timely book about an immigrant artist who loved America and caught her essence in paint. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Review: Through the Window by Barb Rosenstock

Through the Window Views of Marc Chagall's Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (9781524717513)

The team who created The Noisy Paint Box take on another picture book biography of a famous artist. This time the book is about Chagall who was born in Belarus. Even from a young age he was interested in being an artist. He is sent to school for art, but doesn’t conform to the Russian instruction, filling his canvas with color rather than Greek studies. He moved to Paris where his entire life changed with new friends and a new French name. When he heads back to Russia for a family event, he is trapped there. He meets and marries his wife, the two of them eventually leaving Soviet Russia for Paris again. Later, he moves to America where he uses different media to create art, eventually creating his well-known stained glass windows.

Rosenstock brilliantly uses the theme of windows to structure this biography. Because Chagall traveled to various places in his life, this proves to be a vibrant way to follow his life from the early days to his later work. Throughout, readers will be shown that Chagall does not fit into Russia’s expectations for him and for his art. Colors are also used to show the differences between Chagall and Russia. Windows and colors beautifully frame this story, making it approachable and compelling.

The illustrations pay just the right amount of homage to Chagall without trying to imitate his work. The illustrations are lush and detailed. They are filled with gorgeous colors that almost illuminate the pages and certainly convey the beauty of Russia, Paris and Chagall’s artwork and life.

A rich look by an award-winning duo, this picture book is a great addition to artist biographies for youth. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf Books.

Review: For Every One by Jason Reynolds

For Every One by Jason Reynolds

For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)

This book is a single poem, one that is a clarion call for young creatives to continue their work. Originally performed at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then again as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this poem is striking and powerful. There is no claim here that Reynolds has the answer to make money at your dream, to be successful at your dream, but there is a demand that you continue to dream and create as a young person. That it is important for you and for the world.

Reynolds shares personal set backs as a young adult, showing how hard it can be to stay on course when your work is not being noticed. Still, he continued and he asks that everyone continue to speak, to share, to be out there and demand to be heard and seen. It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward.

This one belongs in every library and every creative writing and art room. It is inspiring and beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Review: Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

This breathtaking graphic novel tells the story of the renowned photographer, Graciela Iturbide. Graciela is a Mexican photographer who was worked at her craft for over fifty years. Raised in a large family, she discovered theater and film when she went away to school. Her photography didn’t begin until the tragedy of her daughter dying. She took a photography class and found her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Traveling with him, she soon started to take her own photographs. She photographed the desert, cacti, people and her recurring theme of birds. This graphic novel follows her steps of finding her voice through photography and becoming an icon.

This graphic novel caught my attention when I turned past the first few pages and realized that they had incorporated Iturbide’s photographs into the book. Throughout, there are images drawn directly from her photographs and then the photograph itself is revealed. It’s a stunning way to show the skill and art that went into the photo and then display it with its incredible lighting, softer edges and composition.

The story here is beautifully told as well. Graciela is an example of someone who has an incredible gift and eye for images. She dislikes her photographs being called “magical” and throughout the graphic novel things that could be seen as “signs” of the future are rejected as anything other than simple events. It’s this forthright confidence that infuses the entire work with her personality.

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Getty Publications.

3 Artistic New Books for Children

The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell by Candace Fleming

The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Gerard Dubois (9780399552380)

When Joey Cornell was a child, he collected all sorts of things that interested him. Both of his parents helped find small treasures for his collection. Year after year, his collection grew and grew as he added to it. There were bright colored feathers, butterfly wings, doll heads, leaves, a safe, and much more. After the death of his father, when he was thirteen, Joey began to spend even more time with his collection and began to put the objects together into new combinations. He showed his family the art he had created and continued to collect and create new magical art. Joseph Cornell became a famous artist known for his objects placed in small wooden boxes. The final pages of the book show some of the boxes and the incredible combinations he found of disparate objects that seem to belong together and tell a complete story.

Fleming writes this book with a focus on Cornell’s childhood and the collection he created even then. Her writing invites young collectors to explore and find their own voices. Dubois’ illustrations show the growing collection and young readers can see objects stay year after year and then appear in Cornell’s pieces. There is a strong sense of continuity in the book, a stretch of time held together by the collection and by Cornell himself. This is an entrancing and fascinating look at the childhood of a famous artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Bloom A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (9780062447616)

Raised as an unwanted second daughter who was considered ugly due to the moles on her face, Elsa grew up attracted to the bright colors of the slower market in Rome. Her imagination soars as she dreams of the stars, tries to fly and finds ideas in books and objects in the attic. Elsa become an artist and soon is designing dresses for herself, her husband, friends and her daughter. After years of work, Elsa has joined a group of artists and starts to design modern clothes that take Paris by storm. Elsa finds her own style, freedom from the harshness of her parents’ criticism and brings everyone else along on her journey to bloom.

Maclear has created a picture book biography that shows how a harsh upbringing can be overcome with imagination and hard work. The author’s note at the end of the book offers more insight into Schiaparelli’s designs that could not be shared in the short format of a picture book. It is very impressive therefore how much they did manage to share in the book itself, the illustrations and text applauding Schiaparelli’s life and her accomplishments. The illustrations move from Schiaparelli as a little girl to her designs and the incredible pink that she made famous (that is also the color of the end papers.)

This is a bright and well-designed look at Schiaparelli’s life and her designs. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

World Make Way edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (9781419728457)

This collection of children’s poetry was inspired by a Leonardo da Vinci quote: “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art were paired with poets who wrote poems inspired by those paintings. The result is spectacular, a book that shows each poem along with the art that is tied to it. The poems reflect the paintings in unique and interesting ways, showing readers details, emotions and the feel of each one. The book ends with information on each of the poets and each of the artists. A book that invites young readers to look closely at art and see it from their own point of view. Appropriate for ages 8-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

3 Art-Filled Books for Children

Art Up Close From Ancient to Modern by Claire dHarcourt

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d’Harcourt (9781616894214)

This large format picture book invites readers into a Where’s Waldo type exploration of art. Exploring over twenty works of art, children can search for over 200 details, asking them to look more closely at art than they may have before. Along the way, they will discover new details too. The back of the book provides more information on each piece of art as well as a clever lift-the-flap way to give answers. This book is gorgeously done, the images are crisp and large and span a vast number of years and cultures. A great introduction to art through a vehicle that children will find irresistible. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

Fallingwater The Building of Frank Lloyd Wrights Masterpiece by Marc Harshman

Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Leuyen Pham (9781596437180)

This picture book focuses on just one on Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, Fallingwater. It looks at the process that Wright used to design the building, from viewing the site itself to thinking for a very long time about what he would design. It was at the very last moment that Wright actually put the design on paper so that the owner of the site could see his vision. That vision came to life in Fallingwater, where you can hear the waterfall from every room in the house, stand outside on the balconies, and the floor feels like rocks in a streambed. All of these details will help children better understand the architectural process and how it begins with a vision and idea. The illustrations have a lovely vintage sepia tone and feel with the blue water of the site flowing from page to page, swirling and enlivening the images. A lovely and focused look at a famous architect’s work, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Vincent Can_t Sleep Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (9781101937105)

The duo that created The Noisy Paint Box, which won a Caldecott Honor, return with this look at the childhood and work of Van Gogh. The book focuses on the insomnia that plagued Van Gogh his entire life, even in his childhood when he would head outside in the middle of the night and go out into the heath to watch the stars. He spends much of his time at board school alone and working on his art. As a young man, he has problems working in his uncle’s gallery because of  his moods. The book shows him becoming a full-time artist and heading into the countrysides of Belgium and England. He is a man who understands darkness and night more profoundly than most. This picture book carefully captures the symptoms of Van Gogh’s mental illness, showing him struggling with mood and even hospitalized for a time. The book doesn’t dwell on this, but shows it as part of the complexity of the artist and his gifts. The illustrations are rich and layered, paying homage at times to Van Gogh’s work but at other times standing apart as a witness. Another strong artist biography from this pair that is worth the read and the space on your shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.

In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.

The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (9781481487726)

Kiko struggles to find her own voice in many ways. She can’t seem to be herself in crowds, even small ones. She certainly can’t tell her mother what she actually thinks, particularly when her mother lets her uncle return to their home after Kiko had accused him of molesting her as a child. It is only in her art that Kiko tells her own story and speaks the truth. She plans to finally get away from her mother by attending art school in New York City. When she doesn’t get in, Kiko is trapped in a life of seeing her molester in her home, being with her horrible mother, and seeing her best friend head off to school. That is when a childhood friend comes back into her life and she begins to see what a future filled with art and honesty looks like.

I read only the first few lines of this debut book and realized that I had tumbled into the world created by a very talented storyteller. It is a world of abusive mothers, where the abuse is emotional rather than physical. Bowman draws the abuse clearly and subtly, allowing readers to realize the depths of the damage along with Kiko herself as her mother not only fails to protect her but also hurts her directly. It is a world of art, where art pieces end each chapter, the image capturing the emotions that Kiko was just feeling with an accuracy that lets you see it before your eyes.

This is a book that explores being different, particularly Kiko, who is half Japanese and half Caucasian, looking different than her blonde mother. Her mother has specific cruelties related to Kiko’s appearance that are particularly awful. As Kiko begins to think for herself, readers will be able to start breathing along with her and see just how strong Kiko is as a young woman on her own.

A book that celebrates individuality, art and survival, this novel is fresh and deeply moving. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.