Review: Sparky & Spike by Barbara Lowell

Sparky & Spike by Barbara Lowell

Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (9781944903589)

Sparky has a dog that is black and white. His dog knows fifty words, loves to each strange things, and only drinks from the bathroom faucet. Sparky and his father always head to the drugstore every Saturday night to pick up the Sunday comics. Sparky loves comics and also loves to draw himself. His teacher says that he may be an artist one day, but Sparky definitely wants to be a cartoonist. But drawing is hard, especially getting characters right in multiple panels. The kids at school love Sparky’s drawings, but ignore him otherwise. When Sparky realizes that his dog could make the comic for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, he sends it in along with his drawing of Spike. Eventually, his drawing and caption are published! It’s just the start for the kid whose real name is Charles Schulz.

Lowell deftly depicts the growth of a young artist as he develops his own dream, his own art and a path forward. It is a pleasure to see a young Charles Schulz and his connection to the dog who will inspire Snoopy. His connection to comics from a young age is also fascinating to see as well as his struggles with friendship. The art by Andreasen is cleverly done with a realistic touch that both pays homage to the work of Schulz but also stands on its own stylistically.

An inspiring look at the creator of Peanuts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.

Review: Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Birds of a Feather Bowerbirds and Me by Susan Roth

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth (9780823442829)

Collage artist Roth takes a look at the amazing bowerbird and how her work and their building process compare with one another. Both she and the bowerbird are collectors of random items. They use those items to create compositions. For the bowerbird, that is a bower for their courtship process. They both like unusual objects that they use to create art, things that no one else might ever combine in that way. They both pay attention to color and both seek out praise for their work in the end.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the content and construct of this picture book. While I knew it would be about bowerbirds and humans, I didn’t expect it to be so directly related to the artistic side of both. Roth beautifully shows the fascinating correlations between her work and that of the bird. She demonstrates both in her collage illustrations and in the text of the book how similar they actually are. The text though is kept wonderfully simple, making this book about art very accessible even for young children. She completes the book with more facts about the birds and about her own work as well as a bibliography of sources.

Roth’s illustrations are fabulous. Bright and filled with objects of all kinds, they fill the page with vibrancy. Most of the pages show the bird and then Roth, each working in a similar way on their art. The result is a book about Roth’s way of making art that is also an example of the art itself. Clever stuff!

A very successful mix of nature, science and art. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola (9780763674755)

A nonfiction picture book look at the incredible Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Chand grew up happily in a small village in the Punjab region of India. He grew up there, hearing stories and building palaces on the sand near the river. As an adult, he became a farmer but everything changed when the partition of India happened in 1947. Forced from his home and into a city, Chand struggled to find the beauty he had grown up with. He finally discovered it in the jungle along the city’s edge. There he cut back the vegetation and built himself a hut. He started gathering items and bringing them into the jungle. Then he started building a secret kingdom, one that was undiscovered by anyone else for fifteen years. When the officials wanted it destroyed, the local community rose up to protect this outsider’s art.

Rosenstock manages to keep the complicated story of the partition of India to a scale that allows young readers to understand its impact on Chand, but also not get caught in the political details. She cleverly uses repetition of themes in the book, creating a feel of a traditional tale that suits this subject perfectly. She also shows the care and attention to detail that Chand demonstrated in his quiet work. There is a sense of awe around both his skill and his dedication to his vision.

Nivola’s art is fine-lined and marvelously detailed. From the lush jungle setting to the various figures he created. It is impressive that when the pages unfold to show photographs of the actual Rock Garden, there is no jarring moving from illustration to image. It flows naturally and yet allows the full images to amaze too.

A look at an outsider artist who created a world all his own. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Mallko and Dad by Gusti (9781592702596)

This autobiographical picture book takes a raw and impassioned look at fatherhood and unconditional love. It is the story of the author and his son who was born with Down Syndrome. Mallko was not what his father was expecting, and Gusti did not accept his son at first. Steadily though, he quickly realized that Mallko was complete and fine as he was. Mallko’s mother and older brother accepted him much faster, showing Gusti the way forward. The book explores Mallko, his humor and his life. His art is shown side-by-side with his father’s on the pages. This is a book that is a clarion call for parents to realize that their children don’t need to change to be loved, they are worthy of it always.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is Gusti’s willingness to be this open about his hesitation of having a child who is different than he was expecting. Gusti does not try to rationalize his response or make apologies for it. It is clear he is pained by how he first reacted and is making up for those days of doubt. The rest of the book simply celebrates Mallko and exactly who he is. He is captured in a rainbow of images, cartoons capturing his activities, playing with his family, and simply being a child. It is a breathtaking display of love and feels like Gusti put his heart on every page.

An incredible book that is a picture book, but as thick as a novel thanks to the quantity of images crammed inside waiting to inspire you to love. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.

 

 

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.