Review of Drawing From Memory, by Allen Say

Drawing From Memory

by Allen Say

Scholastic Press, 2011. 64 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Standout: #4 Children’s Nonfiction

Drawing From Memory is not quite a graphic novel (make that graphic biography). There are some speech bubbles, but the majority of pictures don’t have them. This is a remembrance with lots and lots of pictures. The pictures vary from drawings to photos to comics to realistic paintings.

Allen Say moved into his own apartment (from his grandmother’s house) when he was not-quite thirteen years old. Shortly after moving to the apartment, he read a story about a boy three years older, who was apprenticed to Noro Shinpei, one of the most famous cartoonists in Japan. Allen decided to find him and ask to be an apprentice as well.

The book tells the story of Allen’s years with his Sensei, learning and growing, and eventually getting the chance to go to America. He talks about the process of learning to draw, those who learned with him, and especially the close relationship with his teacher. Best of all is the wide variety of illustrations that accompany the story and make it alive.

This is one of those wonderful books in large format that may get hidden in the Biography section of the library. This isn’t the sort of story you’d want for a report, but it’s very much an inspiring story of someone’s life and about finding and following your calling. This is a delightful book.

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Review Copy I got at 2011 ALA Annual Conference.

Review of I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird, by Robert B. Haas

I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird

My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter

by Robert B. Haas

National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2010. 64 pages.
Starred Review

This book is a delight to look at. Robert Haas is an aerial photographer. In this book, he tells the story of getting his stunning images — and he also includes the images.

He tells about his methods; it sounds much more difficult than I ever would have guessed. He usually flies with the door off the helicopter and not one, but two, safety harnesses. It’s very cold up there with the door off, so he wears many layers of clothes.

In this book, he focuses on some images that have a story behind them, like the time he saw a herd of African buffalos being hunted by lions. Another time, he found a bear in Alaska just coming out of its den from a winter’s hibernation. He also does amazing photography of sea creatures, and once the pilot almost lost control right over a large group of sharks.

My favorite image, though, is the one that goes with this description:

“One of the most beautiful sights from the air is a large flock of flamingos moving around in shallow water. The flock forms one shape after another and leaves different patterns as it sweeps across the water. One time off the coast of Mexico, I came across a large flock of flamingos that changed its shape every few seconds, and I kept shooting and shooting for a very long time. And then, when I was just about to leave, I noticed something that was simply unbelievable — the hundreds of flamingos in the flock had actually formed the shape of a flamingo! I was able to capture that shot, and it has become one of my best known photos.”

I’m taking a class on the Caldecott Medal, and we have been discussing whether a photographer will ever win for the most distinguished picture book. I hope last year’s committee gave this book consideration, since the images are truly stunning. This book will be enjoyed and marvelled over by children and adults alike.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Art and Max, by David Wiesner

Art & Max

by David Wiesner

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin), Boston, 2010. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner has another stunner here. Art & Max reminds me of The Three Pigs, because it’s also a meta-book, a book about how books are made. Or at least meta-art, art about art.

The story takes place in the desert with various desert reptiles. (I won’t attempt to specify which species.) Arthur is a big horny critter who is also an artist, and obviously very pleased with himself. When little Max comes along and wants to paint, he asks Art (Arthur) what he should paint.

When Art says, “You can paint me,” Max takes him literally. That’s when the fun begins.

Art ends up covered with paint. When the other critters try to fix him, he goes through several different manifestations — created in different art styles. Most catastrophic is when he’s a watercolor and drinks a glass of water — and then becomes a line drawing. Then when he walks away with Max holding his tail — he unravels completely.

Don’t worry, Max does recreate Art, in a whole new style.

I would like to share this with children. Probably old enough that they wouldn’t worry about being unravelled! Though I think kids will understand the playful spirit and that these things could only happen in a world where all the characters are made of paint in the first place.

This book has lots to talk about or just enjoy, and is captivating on many levels.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if this book had earned David Wiesner a fourth Caldecott Medal, since the art is so innovative and stunning. For me personally, the story didn’t have as much heart as his winners, but it’s still a playful and creative look at what you can do with art.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Making Mischief, by Gregory Maguire

Making Mischief

A Maurice Sendak Appreciation

by Gregory Maguire

William Morrow (HarperCollins), 2009. 200 pages.
Starred Review.

Lavishly illustrated with Maurice Sendak’s creations, Making Mischief is based on a symposium on Maurice Sendak’s work which Gregory Maguire presented in 2003. He goes into far more depth than I expected, and gives the reader a whole new appreciation of Maurice Sendak as an artist.

The approach Gregory Maguire takes is much more interesting than a simple chronological summary of Sendak’s work. He begins by discussing Maurice Sendak’s artistic influences, with fascinating examples from his artwork.

Next, he looks at four motifs that appear throughout Sendak’s work: Flying, reading, children, and other monsters. He approaches Sendak’s life work “as if it were a single creative act,” looking at it as a whole.

Then he looks at some unifying factors, such as the way his paintings so often look like a scene on a stage, with a traveling ensemble of characters.

I especially enjoyed the last two chapters. In Chapter Four, he shows us his personal answers to the following question:

“Suppose all of Sendak’s artwork were hanging in a museum on the corner, and the building caught on fire. You have the chance to save only ten pieces of artwork for posterity. Which ten do you save, dear?”

The final chapter, Chapter Five, I found especially delightful. He presents the complete text of Where the Wild Things Are, illustrated with wholly different illustrations from Maurice Sendak’s work, including eleven different images for the phrase, “and it was still hot.” Almost as much fun as a wild rumpus!

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Review of Show & Tell, by Dilys Evans

show_and_tellShow & Tell

Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration

by Dilys Evans

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2008. 150 pages.

Here’s a magnificent book for any adult who loves children’s picture books. I don’t think of myself as knowing much about art, but this book taught me much, and helped me appreciate the work and talent that goes into making picture books today and the great tradition behind it.

This wonderful book is in large format with lots of examples. It explains the career, the inspiration, and the techniques of twelve great children’s book illustrators.

The illustrators that Dilys Evans chose to feature are: Hilary Knight, Trina Schart Hyman, Bryan Collier, Paul O. Zelinsky, David Wiesner, Betsy Lewin, Harry Bliss, David Shannon, Petra Mathers, Brian Selznick, Denise Fleming, and Lane Smith.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning, she explains her choices:

The definition of “art” has been debated for centuries, but to my mind art happens when a particular creation stops us in our tracks. It makes us think. It touches our deepest emotions and oftentimes it teaches us something new.

Historically, children’s picture books have not been categorized as fine art…. My goal in this book is to explore some of the very best picture books that qualify for that distinction. As part of this exploration I looked for powerful imagery and storytelling ability that goes beyond a simple interpretation of the text or event….

For my purposes I needed a wide range of styles, techniques, and content. Some of the illustrators I have chosen are icons in the children’s book world, others are relative newcomers. But this is not a “best of” list. That would be impossible, given the incredible number of talented artists working in children’s books today…. My purpose was not to profile a particular group of illustrators but to choose a group that would offer readers as broad a frame of reference as possible.

Ultimately, my hope is that this book might help all of us who value children’s books to find a universal language to talk about art on the page; a vocabulary that helps describe this unique form of artistic expression with greater clarity and common understanding. And that we will then take that vocabulary and use it to explore the many other wonderful books that are on our shelves.

In this regard, we truly suffer from an embarrassment of riches. Children’s books have never looked better or been more important. They are one of the few quiet places left where a child can go to be alone, and to travel worlds past, present, and future. They are often the first place children discover poetry and art, honor and loyalty, right and wrong, sadness and hope. And it is there between the pages that children discover the power of their own imaginations. They are indeed a dress rehearsal for life.

Here’s a wonderful look behind the curtain at how that stage scenery is created.

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Review of A Is For Art: An Abstract Alphabet, by Stephen T. Johnson


A Is For Art

An Abstract Alphabet

by Stephen T. Johnson

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), New York, 2008.  42 pages.

Starred Review.

Here’s an alphabet book for adults!  Or teens.  Or children.  A Is For Art is amazing and thought-provoking and clever and playful all at once.

The illustrations are photographs of actual abstract art works.  The artist says,

“For the past six years I have been exploring the English dictionary, selectively choosing and organizing particular words from each letter of the alphabet and, based solely on the meanings of the words, developing a visual work of art.  I took ordinary objects and made them unfamiliar, removing functionality in order to reveal their potential metaphorical associations, which can lead in turn to overlapping and sometimes paradoxical meanings.  I call these individual works ‘literal abstractions’ and the ongoing series An Abstract Alphabet….

“And just for fun, I have included the letter shapes of each letter of the alphabet in all the works.  Well, most anyway — you’ll see.

“For me, art, like language, is about discovery.  At its very best it can be moving, transcendent.  Or on a visceral level it can simply make one laugh out loud.  Art provokes, confounds, challenges, surprises, informs, rejuvenates, and stretches our way of seeing the world.  We cannot get enough of it.  So I hope that my work in this book will ignite and inspire dialogues about art, words, and ideas, which might quicken children and adults to generate creative associations and explore new ways of pulling abstractions out of the real.”

This book, left around, will pull people into delighted browsing.

My personal favorite was the sculpture for the letter M.  Here’s the explanation:

Meditation on the Memory of a Princess

“Motionless, a man-made, monochromatic magenta mass mimics multiple mattresses and makes a massive mound near a mini mauve marble.”

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