Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Two picture books: One good for art class. One not good for teaching English grammar.
Steptoe, Javaka (2016) Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York: Little Brown.
Opening Lines: “Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double-dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist.”
Of course, it isn’t the text that makes this picture book wonderful (though the text is both artfully and poetically written), but it is the images. Steptoe does a brilliant job using the same media that Basquiat used. Pages in this book appear to be paintings on wooden walls that make use of charcoal, objects, and collage techniques. Somehow the images manage to welcome you into another world while simultaneously reminding you that you are looking at an illustration painted on old boards (or, on one specific page, a painting of a painting of Basquiat and his mother looking at the painting Guernica in a museum)..
And the bottom line is, these images are beautiful to look at. In both the street scenes and the scenes set inside the Basquiats’ apartment there is so much light and energy and life. One two-page spread shows Basquiat in his early 20s walking the streets of New York with an art kit in one hand, burshes in the other and canvases tucked under his arm. There is activity in the background with people dancing on the side walk, walking, and playing music. There is a fancy yellow sports car by the curb, and muted blues and reds, and browns and blacks – so much to look at. And yet our eyes are drawn to Basquiat’s face with his wide-eyed grin and his eyebrows raised as if he were drinking in all the action, noise, and beauty of the city.
This book would be great for elementary school classroom libraries and any art classroom from elementary through high school.
Bell, Cece (2015) I Yam a Donkey. Boston: Clarion.
Opening lines: “I yam a donkey!”
“What did you say? ‘I yam a donkey’? The proper way to say that is ‘I am a donkey.”
“You is a donkey too? You is a funny-looking donkey.”
So begins the silliness of this picture book by Cece Bell (author of the graphic novel El Deafo. ) In the book, a goofy and arguably not terribly bright donkey continues this discussion of confusion with a bespectacled yam who is trying very hard to teach the donkey proper grammar.
Maybe that makes it sound like this would be a greeat book to teach young students proper grammar. Um, I would love to be proven wrong, but I am not convinced that is a good idea. The donkey persists in its confusion and the yam continues his prescriptivist rant until the end when the donkey pronounces “Oh! You is lunch” and devours the yam and several of his vegetable friends. Clearly knowing good grammar did not help the veggies evade their end, and incorrect grammar did not stop the donkey from triumphing. So the message regarding grammar is mixed at best.
But in terms of silliness, this book is a winner. When I was reading it silently to myself I could imagine the laughter and squeals of pre-k through first graders as they read each new incorrect interpretation of the donkey. Cece Bell is nothing if not good at inducing giggles. This picture book is a lot of fun.
Incidentally, the entire book is told with word balloons making it useful perhaps for teaching little kids how to read graphic novels. There are no real panel divisions, though.