This surreal picture book takes the paintings of the late Giuliano Cucco and uses them to tell the story of his childhood. Cucco’s journey to becoming an artist is shown in his creativity as a child. From games he played with his mother to imagining paper boats he made floating away. His father was a scientist who studied light and preferred to spend time alone. Cucco spent time in his mother’s garden, dreaming and imagining as he lay surrounded by flowers. Sent to the city to live with his aunt and uncle, the book becomes more surreal and wild with a moon rising out of a box, swinging priests, and doves saved from the dinner plate. Returning to the country, he reconnected with the land and water of his childhood, creating paintings of ocean, violins, and the landscape.
This tribute of a picture book is one that celebrates the creativity of childhood and how allowing unfettered time and space allow that creativity to carry into adulthood. Miller uses his words as a minimal framework to offer a glimpse of the artist’s life and also to share his work. It is those paintings that truly tell the story, sharing emotions through the art. From darker moments to those filled with inspiration and light. The art is whimsical at times, literal at others.
A lovely surreal look at an artist, creativity and childhood. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Yevgeny only seems to disappoint his parents who are rather desperate for him to find a natural gift that will let him escape Soviet Russia. They already know he’s not much of an athlete, unlike his older brother who is going to be a famous ice skater. When his mother takes him to see Mikhail Baryshnikov dance, Yevgeny tries to become a ballet dancer, practicing the movements in their tiny shared apartment. But what he truly loves to do is draw. Since he sleeps under the huge table, he steals his father’s pencil and draws on the bottom of the table where no one can see. Could those small doodles be the talent that his family has been waiting for? And what about the KGB agent who lives down the hall? And what happened to the grandfather whose pictures have been removed from the family album and no one speaks about? There are so many questions to be answered, but Yevgeny must be willing to start insisting on answers.
In this hilarious and touching book for middle grade readers, Yelchin shares a memoir of his own childhood in Russia during the Cold War. Yevgeny is a wonderful naïve protagonist, who doesn’t understand the immense political and social pressures hovering over his family and the entire Russian people. His misunderstandings of this and his growing desire for answers add tension to the story as readers will understand far more than he does.
As Yevgeny covers the bottom of the table with drawings, readers are shown Yelchin’s illustrations of his family and others in his life. They are humorous and filled with a wry charm that shows Yevgeny’s point of view.
Filled with an honesty about life in Cold War Russia, family expectations, and one gifted child. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Corita Kent was a remarkable pop-artist who was also a nun, a teacher and an activist. From a small child, Corita showed kindness and empathy for others and also a love of art and creativity. Her father wanted her to do something original, and Corita certainly did. She surprised her family by becoming a nun, discovering a love of teaching and training new teachers. She joined the art faculty at Immaculate Heart College, where she discovered a love of silkscreen printing. Soon her art was winning competitions. Corita continued to teach classes and make her own art, which spoke to social justice and against poverty and war. She transformed a rather formal celebration into one of bright colors and activity. Not everyone approved of what Corita was doing, and she surprised the people around her once again, asking to be released from her religious vows. She found places for her largest work, painted on a gigantic tank, and her smallest, a rainbow postage stamp.
While Kent may not be a household name, many of us have seen her work on the iconic postage stamp. This picture book embraces her unusual life, celebrating the decisions she made, the art she created and her voice for social change. The book cleverly pulls out elements of how Kent taught and created her art, offering unique perspectives gained by seeing the world in a fresh way. The writing here is engaging and offers a tone of delight as Kent continues to surprise and amaze.
The bright and vibrant art in the book shares elements of Kent’s own work. Her play with lettering and words appear throughout the illustrations of the book, filling tree trunks, coloring margins, and as posters on the walls. The entire book is a delight of collage, typography and riotous color.
A positive and affirming look at an artist who should be better known. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Told by Joyce Scott, the twin sister of Judith, this picture book explores the closeness of the sisters as small children until they are separated for years. The two sisters shared everything with one another, playing together all the time. Then Joyce is sent to kindergarten and Judith is left behind. Judith has Down syndrome and has never spoken. Then her parents send Judith to a special school where she will live and learn to talk. They don’t visit for a long time and when they do, the school isn’t like other schools. There is no playground, no desks, no books. As they grow older, Joyce gets married and has children. She continues to think of Judith as being at her side all the time. Eventually, she is able to bring Judith out of the institution and to live with her. Joyce finds Judith an art program to be part of. Judith attends but won’t participate at all. Months go by until her teachers give her some natural materials and fabric. Suddenly, Judith is creating unique pieces of sculpture and is celebrated as an artist.
Full of sorrow and loss, this picture book examines the destructive nature of the systematic institutionalization of people with special needs to both the person institutionalized and their loved ones. Having Joyce herself narrate the book is powerful. The beautiful connection the sisters have in their young childhood forms a foundation of connection that allows her to rescue her sister decades later. Even as the book moves to when Judith finds her artistic voice, there is a melancholy to the years lost and the muting of her voice for so long.
Sweet’s illustrations are incredible and moving. She incorporates collage and also builds sculptures to pay homage to Scott’s work. Built with string, textiles, wire and wood, there is a celebratory nature to them of an art newly found. In other moments, Sweet captures wistfulness, longing and connection with light, shadow and color.
An extraordinary look at an artist who was almost lost. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.
This picture book biography looks at the country life of N.C. Wyeth and his family through the eyes of his artist daughter, Henriette. Henriette joins her father as he heads out into the countryside to paint. The two quietly go out, avoiding her talkative sister who is in the henhouse and her brother who is in his workshop building things. Her father greets the flowers along the way, finally stopping to paint the landscape before them. The two sense the world around them, draw the details they see, and smell the earth and plants, painting the sky. They paint together until it is time to head home, and even then Henriette stays behind to paint even more.
The author first discovered Henriette through N.C. Wyeth’s letters and then went on to learn more about her. The statements that the book has Wyeth say to his daughter are taken from his writing about art. The language in the book is poetic and rich, showing all of us how to look more deeply at the world around us and celebrate the small things we see and the large landscape and sky as well.
Bates was also taught art by her own father and notes in her Illustrator’s note that this book pays homage to the Wyeth’s and also to her own experience as she grew up. The illustrations are an engaging mix of watercolor landscapes and then also smaller drawings and paintings that Henriette would have made as they wandered from things she dreamt up and details she noticed.
A lovely look at the Wyeth family, the talented Henriette and how the artistic eye is taught. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Maria played in the fields while her parents worked, making clay bowls. When all of them cracked in the sun, she sought help from her Aunt Nicolasa who showed her the ancient Tewa way of making pots using clay mixed with volcanic ash and thanking Mother Earth for sharing clay with them. Maria practiced making pots for months before she was ready to have one fired with her aunt’s. Some pots don’t survive firing, so Maria was pleased when hers came out perfectly from the blaze. Maria grew up, married and had children, never stopping working with clay and pots. In 1908 an archaeologist asked if she could create a pot based on an ancient shard of pottery. Though Maria had never seen such a polished and black pot, she decided to try. After many attempts, her pot came out shiny and black. Maria was able to sell her pottery for the first time and soon they were selling as many as they could create, employing her entire family.
This picture book biography tells the story of an important Native American artist who served as a vital ambassador for the Tewa people and the ancient ways of making pottery. The book is written by one of Maria’s great grandchildren and an art teacher author. Their deep knowledge of Maria and art are evident on the pages with the details shared and the homage to Maria’s dedication for learning and teaching.
The illustrations glow with the sun of New Mexico, combined with deep blue skies and green plants. The illustrations are a stirring combination of the characters and beautiful landscapes full of sunset pinks, purples and oranges.
A lovely tribute to an important Native woman artist. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Albert Whitman & Company.
Ben Shahn was born in Lithuania and at age four saw his father taken banished for demanding workers’ rights. From a very young age, Ben drew, even though paper was scarce in Lithuania, so he drew in the margins. When his father ends up in America, he brings Ben, his mother and his brother to join him. Ben goes to school, learning a new alphabet instead of the Hebrew one that he learned in Lithuania. He is soon identified as a promising young artist at school, but his family must send him to work in order to survive. Ben works for a lithographer, hand-lettering signs while going to art school at night. But art school isn’t what he is looking for. They teach landscapes rather than the people and stories that Ben wants to paint. Inspired by stories of injustice, Ben painted about current events, creating series of paintings that while not pretty were inspiring. He went on to document the Great Depression using photography, hired by the government several times as an artist. Ben continued to paint the people who were invisible to others.
Levinson captures the story of Shahn’s life with a focus on what drove him to create art, linking it to tragedies in his homeland and his family. Her writing is full of admiration for his hard work and insistence that he paint what he wanted to rather than what he was being told to do. His belief in sharing the stories of those less fortunate shines in her words, revealed by her stellar writing that is both clear and also evocative.
Turk’s art pays homage to Shahn’s throughout the book. Made with gouache, acrylic, pencil, chalk and linoleum block prints, the illustrations are textured and layered. They include versions of some of Shahn’s most iconic works. Turk’s use of bold color, deep shadow and light create a marvelous background for Shahn’s life story.
A great picture book biography that speaks to the intersection of art and political statement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
This deeply personal graphic memoir tells the author’s story of being a creative person in our modern world. Spanning from 2011 to 2019, the book explores her life as a young adult. Starting with her time in art school with its loneliness and her growing meltdowns and self harm, the book explore the darker side of her personality. Her inner flame of creativity and passion battles the hole that she sees as gaping right at her middle. Still, that darkness is offset by wonderfully mundane happy moments such as apple picking in the fall and watching TV with people she enjoys. As the years progress, that strain of darkness and depression vs. creativity and wild energy continues. Stevenson shares her huge accomplishments too such as publishing her first graphic novel to great acclaim and winning national awards for it and running a highly successful series for Netflix. Still, those never quiet the negative thoughts. After finally crashing to her lowest point, Stevenson emerges like a phoenix, a woman in love, getting married and carrying her fire with her still.
There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking. The mix of Stevenson’s writing with her illustrations, many created at the time she is talking about, makes for a dynamic read where her skill as both writer and artist is evident on every page. Perhaps most telling is how her huge successes did not diminish her negative internal experience, instead perhaps accelerating the crash. Her honesty about self harm and struggles with mental illness is amazing.
Stevenson carefully stays away from generalizing her experience, instead keeping her memoir very personal and about her own journey through creativity and the way it can burn and destroy as well as build. Because of this, readers can see themselves in her, relate to her feelings and see a way forward that does not involve a complete loss of self or creativity. It’s a book of hope, for creative queer people in particular.
Strong, personal and empowering, this is a memoir is a courageous look at mental illness. Appropriate for ages 16-19.
Cezanne’s Parrot by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Brett Helquist (9780525515081)
Cezanne was a French painter who longed to be told that he’s a great artist, so he tried to train his parrot to say that to him. Cezanne’s focus on ordinary events and people as well as his unique style of thick paint and heavy lines did not speak to the professors at the famous Academie des Beaux-Arts where he longed to study. Monet advised Cezanne to head into the French countryside for inspiration. But Monet painted quickly and Cezanne painted very slowly, sometimes taking over 100 visits to a site before his painting was complete. He continued to submit his art for consideration by the Academie, but continued to be rebuffed. The Impressionists emerged as a group that broke the rules of art, but Cezanne didn’t fit in, even with them. He continued to paint the way that only he could, eventually becoming a huge success.
Cezanne’s continued disappointments in gaining attention for his art flavor this picture book biography with rejection and sorrow. They also give readers a chance to see someone who never gave up even as people mocked him. This incredible resilience is also captured in the humor of teaching his parrot to compliment him, something that finally happens in the picture book towards the end.
Helquist’s illustrations are saturated with color, rich and vibrant. He reproduces several of Cezanne’s masterpieces on the page while the majority of the illustrations are filled with images of Cezanne’s hard work, using speech bubbles and humor when appropriate.
A look at one of the greatest painters of all time and what it took to be a success. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.