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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown & Company Young Readers,(April 2006)
WHEN ART IS IN PLAY
GET OUT OF ART'S WAY
HE REALLY GETS WIRED
THERE'S NO STOPPING ART
WHEN ART IS INSPIRED
--Art by Patrick McDonnell, p. 6-11.
Art is a boy who enjoys making art, and his excitement and delight in creating art are contagious. He runs across the pages, spattering paint, drawing images, and generally having so much fun it makes you want to paint right along with him. If you're looking for a book that encourages you to be creative and have fun, check Art out.
McDonnell (The Gift of Nothing) uses an enjoyable double play on art (the medium) and Art (a boy), right from the opening. The most fun in that double play comes through sentences that could have a double meaning, such as "There's no stopping art when art is inspired," which can be read both as there's no stopping someone's art or creative bent when it's inspired, and as there's no stopping Art, the character, when he's inspired. This double play is further enhanced by the entire text being printed in capitals—so Art and art are indistinguishable (at least in words).
The book moves quickly. McDonnell uses short rhyming sentences, both on pages of their own and broken up between pages and spreads. The first two pages did not seem like part of the rhyme or in keeping with the rest of the text, though they hold great humor. Visually, there is little punctuation (no periods or commas—except near the end when the sentences are longer per page—but there are question marks, apostrophes, and ellipses) which may add to the feeling of freedom throughout the book.
The text moves from an episodic list of how Art creates his art into more of a story where Art falls asleep after creating his art, and wakes to discover his mother displayed his art on the fridge. Both work well on their own, though the transition between them where the reader is asked to be quiet and to see if a picture is worth a thousand words was a little jarring for me. The text directly addresses the reader twice, once near the beginning and once near the end, which should have a nice repetition to it, but the second time briefly took me out of the story (perhaps because the first was humorous and felt like part of the story, and the second more like a command that seemed forced into the text). However, overall the text felt fairly smooth and flowed well.
The text and the illustrations work well together, each adding to the other. McDonnell uses both ellipses and the placement of text per image or page to help slow (or speed up) the pace and add to the rhythm.
I was left wanting a bit more of a satisfying ending; the end didn't feel like a true end to me. There is such high energy in the illustrations, the middle fantasy section works so well, and that plus the text moving into a story mode made me want some joyful excitement or something bigger to happen because of Art or his art. Still, that Art's mother clearly loves both him and his art may inspire some readers to go create artwork of their own to give to the ones they love.
McDonnell's ink-and-watercolor illustrations are lively and full of energy. McDonnell uses a bright, cheerful palette, with beautiful splashes of red, yellow, and blue paint that are freely spattered all over the pages, and are echoed in Art's red striped shirt (with a faint yellow wash), his blue baseball cap, and his jeans.
Art appears small on the page, while his artwork is huge, yet Art always stands out in each illustration (as do his artistic tools and his dog). In the painting and marker section, this is accomplished by the black ink outlines on Art, his tools, and his dog while the splashes of color have no outlines, and in the drawing section, where the drawings also use black lines, Art stands out because he is in color, while the drawings are simple black lines against white. This, plus the characterization and energy in Art, ensures that Art is always the focal point of the illustrations. The illustrations are borderless and make good use of the white space, treating it as a giant canvas that Art both works on and runs across. The illustrations move from using only primary colors into full color in the last three illustrations, starting with Art's drawing 'worth a thousand words,' then when Art wakes up and is with his mother in the kitchen, giving a sense that perhaps the fantastic way the artwork was created was seen through Art's imagination.
Much of the artwork that Art paints and draws has fluid, free lines and bright color that feels joyful. This feeling is increased by Art's exuberant, happy energy as he runs around with his paintbrush, splattering paint, his markers, zigzagging lines, and his pencil, where the drawings almost come to life. Art himself is also drawn fluidly, with expression, and in a comic-strip style (like McDonell's Mutts comic strip). The book shows readers different styles of art just through the use of different mediums, and through paint being spread or splattered, markers and his pencil using lines.
The story bursts into fantasy (and is my favorite part of the book) when, like Harold and the Purple Crayon, Art draws his world and it becomes tangible—he is able to climb up on the house he drew to finish drawing the roof. (Though for that section to be absolutely perfect for me, the dog should not have appeared in the book until Art drew him.) This section is, for me, the heart of the book, where the artwork comes alive and becomes more than just markings on paper, but becomes a world Art can inhabit and interact with.
Some of the large artwork that Art painted and drew in the earlier spreads appears again in the ending as art fastened to the fridge with magnets, tying the book (and the magic of the art) together, and coming full circle. This brings a nice feeling. There's also a nice design touch to the book itself, where splatters of watercolor appear on the opening end papers and inner title page, and a blue curly line runs straight out from the middle of the page and continues on the end papers. Curious and observant readers will enjoy lifting the flap of the jacket at the back to discover Art running along with his marker held high, creating the blue line.
Art is an energetic, happy book about the joy and freedom of art, and how it can come alive in the artist's mind. This book will encourage and inspire readers to make some squiggles of their own, using their own style or chosen medium, or just experimenting. It also encourages creativity and imagination. Highly recommended.
-Added February 2007
Want more books?
Go back to Encouraging Creativity: Thinking Outside the Box to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
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