Friday, January 04, 2008


HOW TO PAINT THE PORTRAIT OF A BIRD by Jacques Prévert, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook Press)
"First paint a cage/with an open door...Then take the picture to a garden...or a park...or a forest./...If the bird doesn't come right away, don't be discouraged. Wait./...Wait till the bird enters the cage. Then gently close the door with your brush." Sketchy art follows a boy from sun's rising to sundown, in his serious and ultimately successful pursuit of capturing a bird using color and canvas. Paired with the brilliant and celebrated Prévert (whose work inspired the song "Autumn Leaves" and who influenced the surrealist movement), this little gem at once captures what is best about imagination and then sets it free in the hearts of readers. This book sings with the process and power of an artist's inspiration: the patience, the disappointment, the joy, the renewal. Even in the last pages as the bird takes flight from the painting the little boy has created, we are assured, "tomorrow you can paint another one."

This bird of artistic inspiration is in spirit a Phoenix, and like the bird that comes alive again and again, so does illustrator Gerstein, one of the bravest artists in the world of children's books. From his Caldecott winning THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS to his contemplative look at the cycle of life in THE MOUNTAINS OF TIBET, to his love story for children CAROLINDA CLATTER to his parable of war THE OLD COUNTRY, to his many thoughtful and unusual picture book biographies or his major contribution to picture book Judaica, he always creates books from a very genuine place of interest and caring and enthusiasm, and this translates loud and clear in every one of his works. I have so often asked the children I have taught, "What is the artist trying to say? What is he trying to share?" More than any other of his books, I believe this most recent title reflects the true essence of Gerstein; he is sharing how much he values creation. Every child will recognize the process of making art in this book, and will be emboldened to create more after hearing the song of the bird. One of the loveliest books of the past year, and deserving of classic status. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Another great picture book has hatched!
FIRST THE EGG by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook Press) "First the EGG/then the CHICKEN/First the TADPOLE/Then the FROG/First the SEED/Then the FLOWER.../First the WORD/Then the STORY..." Yaccarino's style of mixed media with thick painterly strokes is striking and deceptively simple. Turn each clever die-cut page to reveal what comes next. This book is full of surprises! Fans of Edward Emberley's GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER and Lois Ehlert's work in general (HANDS is my favorite, COLOR ZOO more popular) will recognize the technique of cutting pages to reveal clues to what follows , and to maintain and heighten interest. Yaccarino's lastest is a straightforward, perfect concept book for the very young or otherwise very thoughtful. And in case you are wondering which came first, the chicken or the egg, just remove the slipcover and decide for yourself. (3 and up)

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