Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shelf Life [kids]

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, by Eric Carle, 32 pages.

As the author/illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and many other titles, Eric Carle is one of the most renowned and beloved creators of children’s picture books. The “artist” in this book, however, isn’t Eric Carle. Instead, it’s a young boy, who is happily painting large pictures of animals such as a blue horse, a pink rabbit, a black polar bear, a green lion, an orange elephant and others. As he paints, he proudly announces “I am an artist!” and at the end of the story, he declares “I am a good artist!”

The simple, brightly-coloured illustrations in this book will hold the attention of young children, and the boy’s confidence in applying unusual colours to his animals - such as a blue horse - will inspire the creativity of other young artists.

In fact, Eric Carle’s picture book is a tribute to artistic creativity and imagination. It’s also a tribute to one artist in particular, the influential Expressionist painter Franz Marc, who died as a soldier during World War I.  His paintings were banned in Nazi Germany along with those of various other “modernist” artists. (They were considered to be “degenerate” because they weren’t realistic or traditional.)  As a high school student in Stuttgart during the Nazi regime, Eric Carle was secretly shown the artist’s work, which often featured animals painted in bright, unexpected colours – a technique also employed by Carle today in his collage-styled book illustrations.  (Franz Marc’s paintings of blue horses are among his best-known creations.)

Art students and adults as well as young children would be interested in this vibrant, new picture book from an artist whose work is always distinct, recognizable and thoroughly enjoyable.

** Recommended for ages 3 years and up.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad, by Henry Cole, 34 pages.

Henry Cole’s story about the Underground Railroad in the United States during the Civil War is wordless or “unspoken”, as suggested in the title. There really is no need for words because the detailed, sepia-toned pencil drawings tell the story so well.

In this book, a young farm girl, while gathering eggs, hears a noise in the hen house and discovers someone hiding there. The fearful eyes tell her that this person is a runaway, likely making his way to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Acting with compassion and courage, she secretly brings food and water to the man.

Later, members of the Confederate Army ride through the farm yard, searching for the runaway. Fortunately, their search is fruitless.

The reader of this story never sees the face of the escaped slave, just the eyes and hands – but this is enough to convey his desperation and fright.  

The young girl and the runaway communicate without words, because again, there is no need. In fact, this haunting story is so moving and powerful because of what it doesn’t say but instead portrays through the incredible illustrations. 

This picture book is sure to evoke much discussion, and with its wealth of illustrative detail, readers will want to return to it again and again.

Author Henry Cole grew up on a dairy farm in Virginia where he can remember hearing older relatives tell stories of the Civil War. A former teacher, he is the author of many other children’s picture books.

** Recommended for ages 5 years and up.  

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on December 6, 2012. Written by Sally Hengeveld, Librarian.

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