Sunday, March 21, 2010

Everyone's Been In Monet's Garden

I stumbled upon The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt, a story based on a real incident.

The book made me think of Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork. Then I learned that Philippe has been there, too.

Everyone has been in Monet's garden. My sister has been in Monet's garden. That would make a great picture book. Constance in Monet's Garden and Why Gail is Bitter.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Lost Week

Because I'm incredibly insensitive, I spent a little time working at home on Monday while a family member was going under the knife. (Come on. It wasn't brain surgery, and one of our nicer relatives was at the hospital with her.) Otherwise, I've been sharing post-surgical elder care this past week, including an overnight last night. I didn't get any other work done, but during those moments when I wasn't becoming incredibly friendly with a large number of residents of a senior housing complex, I did manage to do a little reading.

Among the books I completed was this year's Siebert Medal winner, We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, which was written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The images are eye-poppingly beautiful, and the unnamed first-person narrator who sounds like a player from the era makes this historical work very readable. And the book uses endnotes! I can never say enough about how much I love nonfiction that includes citations.

I am not a fan of baseball. Reading about it is one hundred percent better, as far as I'm concerned, when there is a historical element.

This book is deserving of every good thing that's been written about it. I do wonder, though, as I always wonder when I read these beautiful nonfiction books published in a picture-book format, who will read them? The text is way too sophisticated and lengthy for traditional picture book readers. We Are The Ship's publisher is marketing it to ages 8 and up, but will, say, intermediate and middle school teachers accept their students reading and reporting on it? Will the adults who might be very taken with it find it in the kids' section of libraries and bookstores?

Do books like this find their readers?

A exhibit of the original art work for We Are The Ship will arrive at the Eric Carle Museum in 2012. I hope I remember.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Random Reading

The Chronicle Books spring and summer children's catalog arrived last month. I only had time to browse, but Classic Western Stories, compiled by Cooper Edens, caught my eye because I'd recently recommended a western novel for YA readers. Plus, I've wondered in the past if kids would read western.

Chronicle Books publishes a lot of art books, including art board books.

Then back while I was on vacation (can you believe I'm still talking about that?), I bought a copy of that week's Sunday New York Times, a treat that goes back to my college days and one that I rarely have time for. That issue included an article called Hapless Boy Wins Eager Friends, about the popularity of the Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney. I've only just read the article because I was on retreat from all kid reading while I was on vacation.

I have not yet read any of the Wimpy Kid books because they're written in diary format, and I have trouble getting enthused for reading those kinds of books. However, I hear a lot about them when I go into schools. Kids love them. The diary format doesn't bother them one bit.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Art And History In One Lovely Package

My impression of the nineteenth century is that it was a time when people had a big interest in things outside themselves—natural history, art, and philosophy, for instance. At the same time, you saw some remarkable bigotry. Susanna Reich's biography of George Catlin, Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin, confirms my feelings about that incredibly interesting century.

You may not be familiar with George Catlin's name, but you've probably seen his work, particularly The Cutting Scene. Catlin was a nineteenth century artist who made painting American Indians (the term Reich uses) his life's work, both in terms of art and business. Early in Painting the Wild Frontier, Reich says of him, "Would people pay to look at paintings of Indians, he wondered, the way they paid to look at the Greek statues and the paintings of Revolutionary War heroes in Peale's museums?"

He gambled that they would.

The first part of Painting the Wild Frontier deals with Catlin the artist and adventurer. He believed the Plains Indians were still relatively untouched by contact with Europeans and seemed sincerely interested in documenting them and their lives with his art. Except for a few unattractive incidents that indicate that he was, indeed, a nineteenth century man, (the buffalo he shot but didn't kill and allowed to struggle in pain so he could sketch it from better angles, for instance, and his insistence on visiting a quarry considered a sacred site, even going so far as to take a sample of the rock away with him) Catlin comes off well during his productive years.

Making a living from art is almost always a problem, and in Catlin's case, he appears to have been a better painter than businessman. Though he ran successful exhibits in the United States and London, he wasn't able to hold on to money. An argument could be made that he also exploited Indians who appeared in his exhibitions. In his later years, he could have been a model for the artist tragically fallen on hard times.

When literary agent Nathan Bransford described his fantasy MFA Program he said, "Good nonfiction has an underlying arc and a satisfying conclusion." Reich definitely finds an underlying arch in George Catlin's life story, and while its conclusion may not be satisfying in terms of happily ever after, it's satisfying in terms of being a conclusion that fits in with what came before. While I kept hoping he would redeem himself as I read the latter part of the book, I can't say I was surprised when he didn't.

The art of our past is important because before cameras it was the only way to preserve how people and things looked. Archaeologists sometimes use art to help them date items--if a cup is similar to one in a painting from the late eighteenth century, then it, too, may very well come from that period. Thus Catlin's art is important no matter what we may think of him. Painting the Wild Frontier includes enough of it to almost be considered an art book. Some of the illustrations are in black and white, some are in color, and all are beautiful. Captions not only discuss the work, but identify the individuals in the paintings, making them real people who lived on after they were painted, who had families and perhaps descendants walking among us today.

Pay particular attention to the timeline at the back of the book, in which Reich shows us what was going on in the U.S. at various points in Catlin's life. While reading Painting the Wild Frontier, you'll definitely get a feeling for the nineteenth century world, but it's here in the timeline that you really get hit with some of the inconsistencies of the period. In 1838, for instance, while Catlin's Indian Gallery exhibit is a big hit with the citizens of four eastern cities, 4,000 Cherokee Indians die on the Trail of Tears while being forcibly relocated by the federal government.

This is a piece of work that could really get young readers interested not only in the subject covered but in reading history, period.

Painting the Wild Frontier has been nominated for a Cybil.

You can read a lot more about Painting the Wild Frontier next week, when Susanna Reich will be doing a blog tour. She'll be getting started on Monday at Becky's Book Reviews and stopping here on Thursday when we'll be talking history.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My First Picture Book Of The Year

Children: A First Art Book by Lucy Micklethwait is a collection of works of art used to illustrate common childhood activities. I thought it was kind of interesting, a way of introducing children to the idea that looking at traditional art can be a pleasurable experience.

Micklethwait has a series of I Spy books that also serve as introductions to fine art.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

My Interesting Mail

A few weeks ago I received the children's spring/summer 2007 catalog from Chronicle Books. This is the first book catalog I've ever received that wasn't from my own publisher, so, of course, I took a look at it.

I'd never heard of Chronicle, but it publishes the Griffin & Sabine books, which I certainly do know about (and have read). According to its website, it focuses on "illustrated titles" and "visual books." The website also says "the company's philosophy was to publish books that were as affordable as they were beautiful."

Definitely a worthy sentiment.

I noticed that Chronicle was featuring a number of art books. As it turns out, I'm a sucker for kids' art books, probably because my knowledge of art is on a kid level. Among the titles that caught my eye:

Andy Warhol's Colors by Susan Goldman Rubin (a board book)

Charlotte in Giverny by Joan MacPhail Knight; illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This book was originally published in 2000. The paperback comes out in April.

Artist in Overalls by John Duggleby Published in 1996. The Chronicle catalog features it in both hardcover and paperback.

When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden. Published in 1998! I read it back in 2005

Notice anything interesting about those books? Many of them are older titles, definitely not new this season. And yet Chronicle is still giving them space in its catalog. That looks like some serious support to me.

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