Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

by Javaka Steptoe (Author)

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe's vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat's own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn't always have to be neat or clean--and definitely not inside the lines--to be beautiful.

School Library Journal

Gr 1-5--A visually stunning picture book biography about modern art phenomenon Jean-Michel Basquiat. Coretta Scott King Award--winner Steptoe's vivid text and bold artwork reflect the Haitian Puerto Rican artist's collage-style paintings that rocketed him to fame in the 1980s. Back matter and an introduction to symbolism in Basquiat's work help readers appreciate the layers of Black identity and Yoruba influences at play in Steptoe's illustrations.

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

In this visually arresting and vibrantly narrated biography, Steptoe (In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall) charts the childhood of incandescent, ill-fated artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Although the book includes no work by Basquiat himself, Steptoe emulates 1980s street art by layering paint, paper scraps, paint tubes, and photos on found-wood panels. The artist, Steptoe writes, learned to see art in the "messy patchwork of the city," the "street games of little children," and the "terrible blues" of growing up. Basquiat's early influences include his Puerto Rican mother, Matilde, who encourages him with museum visits and with the textbook Gray's Anatomy. Poetry and his Haitian father's jazz records fuel his imagination, too: "His drawings are not neat or clean, nor does he color inside the lines." Basquiat's radiance was suffused with trauma, and Steptoe alludes to Matilde's mental illness and Basquiat's teenage strife ("His mother's mind is not well, and the family breaks"). Passing references to Warhol, Haring, graffiti, and Basquiat's heroin overdose appear in the afterword: "Basquiat lived an exhilarating life, but... he struggled with a drug addiction until his death." Overall, Steptoe focuses on Basquiat's meteoric rise, and readers see the artist smiling as he walks on the gritty Lower East Side. Collaged photographs picture a crowded gallery, and Steptoe concludes in the present tense: "He is now a famous artist!" Steptoe downplays tragic elements, instead celebrating Basquiat's irreverence and brilliance. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)

Copyright 2016 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

*"Vibrant colors and personal symbols channel the 'sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL' paintings, incorporating meticulously attributed collage elements and capturing the artist's energy and mystery. Stellar bookmarking—a riveting portrait of a young artist."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Javaka Steptoe

Javaka Steptoe is the illustrator of Lee & Low's In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall, winner of numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and an ALA Notable. His two other picture books, Do You Know What I'll Do? (HarperCollins) and A Pocketful of Poems (Chronicle) have received critical acclaim as well. Steptoe is renowned for his innovative collage constructions. The Jones Family Express is his first book as both author and illustrator. He received his degree in fine arts from Cooper Union in New York City, and currently teaches art to children. The son of the late Caldecott medalist, John Steptoe, Javaka marks his picture book debut with this collection. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. To find out more about Javaka Steptoe, visit javaka.com.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
October 20, 2016
Coretta Scott King Award
Winner 2017 - 2017
Caldecott Medal
Winner 2017 - 2017

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