Monday, September 5, 2011

8. I Like How You Think.

Encourage your children to run with an idea and see where it will take them!
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, written and illustrated by Eric Carle, Philomel, $17.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages, 2011. Due out Oct. 4.  From the beloved creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar comes a joyful celebration of artistic expression. Inspired by German painter Franz Marc, Carle's story depicts a boy painting animals in colors that don't occur in nature: a lion that's green, a polar bear that's black, a donkey with polka-dots and eventually a horse that's blue. The blue horse, like the one on the cover, is a tribute to Marc's famous and controversial 1911 work Blue Horse I.  Marc believed that color had emotional meaning and he wasn't afraid to use it in unconventional ways. And here, Carle beautifully echoes that idea, showing readers that they don't have to follow every rule of art: Embrace what you see in your imagination, he seems to say, and be true to yourself. Carle makes his point with such joie de vivre that readers will feel energized to get out there and paint just as their heart desires. Also encouraging, every picture in the book looks like a child could paint it: animal shapes are simple collages and fur looks as if it were textured with fingers or the hard ends of paintbrushes. Brilliantly simple, this one's a pat on the back to any young artist who yearns to do things differently.
Boy Wonders, written and illustrated by Calef Brown, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages, 2011. In this spirited, fun book, the creator of Flamingos on the Roof  captures a boy's eagerness to understand the world. From one page to the next, the boy wonders aloud why things in the world are just so, and makes leaps of logic as he reasons through questions in nonsensical ways. He also gets readers excited about playing with words and asking questions of their own. In the first spread, Brown zooms in on the boy's face staring back at readers: "Are you ever perplexed? " the boy beseeches. "Completely vexed? / Do you have questions? / Queries? / Odd Theories?" Well yes, you say to yourself, of course!  And from there on, a stream of funny questions gushes out of the boy, suggesting how quickly ideas spring from curiosity. On one page the boy inquires, "Do paper plates / and two-by-fours / remember being trees?" On another, he asks a brain-twister. "If I, as the class clown, / am given a paper crown / as a trophy for being goofy, / have I, alas, / been clowned by the class?" So what do you do when you have all these questions? Well, says the boy, you ask more questions! "Any suggestions?" he asks in the final line. With whimsical illustrations and silly, clever rhymes, Brown once again pulls us in like a high-energy ringmaster. His pace is so frenetic and exciting, readers almost feel like they don't have time to take a breath. And by the last page? Synapses are popping like kernels in a frying pan.

Beautiful Oops, written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg, Workman, $11.95, ages 3 and up, 28 pages, 2010. Celebrate imperfection and the wisdom of mistakes in this standout book that's sure to become a staple in school art rooms. The title and the cover say it all. There, a brush drips paint onto the U in the title word "Beautiful" and pencil mark shows through the ink Os in "Oops." One look at this book and parents will let out a collective, happy sigh. Finally! A book that glorifies imperfection and puts it in the hands of kids. Beautiful Oops embraces all the unintended scribbles, wrinkles, smears and drips kids at one time or another make, and teaches them not to look back. No-no-no. As readers turn pages, look through holes and lift flaps, they see mistakes transform into opportunities and realize that art doesn't have to go as they planned. A tear on one page becomes the mouth of a crocodile on the the next. On another page, a crumpled wad of paper becomes the body of a sheep. For any child who's collapsed in a heap after making a mistake, this is their saving grace -- just the thing to help them bounce back and recharge their confidence.

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