Flying Paintings: The Zhou Brothers: A Story of Revolution and Art

by Amy Alznauer (Author) Dahuang Zhou (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

The epic story of two Chinese brothers who became art-world legends, illustrated with stunning paintings by the artists themselves

First there was one Zhou brother, and then there were two. They lived in a bookstore with their grandmother, Po Po, whose stories of paintings that flew through the air and landed on mountain cliffs inspired them to create their own art. Amid the turbulence of China's Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, the Zhou Brothers began painting together on the same canvas. Today, ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou are icons in the art world, renowned for working side by side on all their paintings and sculptures.

In this extraordinary biography, author Amy Alznauer joins with the Zhou Brothers to tell the story of their unique and often difficult childhood and their pursuit of a wild, impossible dream. The lyrical writing blends elements of legend, while the brothers' dramatic illustrations soar with vibrant colors and surreal imagery from ancient Chinese cliff paintings. An inspiration for young artists and dreamers of all kinds, this deeply felt collaboration explores how art can bring people together, as well as set them free.


School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 4—The transformative power of art takes center stage in this picture book biography loosely based on the lives of internationally acclaimed artists and brothers ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou. Born in the 1950s in the People's Republic of China, the brothers (then known as Shaoli and Shaoning) came of age during the Cultural Revolution. After their father was forced into a labor camp and their mother was imprisoned by the government, the brothers were raised by their grandmother, Po Po, who was a bookseller. They painted and heard stories about the cliff paintings of Huashan; as they grew older, the cliff paintings and stories influenced their work. After Po Po died, the brothers began to paint a mural together on the walls of their family bookstore and embarked on an artistic partnership that still exists today. The idea that beauty cannot exist without ugliness is echoed throughout the text. The strength of this book lies in the autobiographical artwork rendered by the brothers. Representation of their artwork over the span of their career mirrors their growth as artists while also providing a sample of their work. Author and illustrator's notes are included. VERDICT A fascinating introduction to two contemporary artists who battled adversity and hardships to pursue the higher calling of creative expression. Purchase for large collections where picture book biographies are in demand.—Jennifer Knight, North Olympic Lib. Syst., Port Angeles, WA

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

In folktale cadence, Alznauer traces the story of two brothers, Shaoli and Shaoning, who struggle to create lives for themselves as artists in "the new People's Republic of China," which "did not appreciate the high spirits of people who ran their own stores and made their own art." Guided by the words of their grandmother-- "to become an artist... you must possess the highest spirit"--the brothers struggle through loss and separation, acquiring training, drawing inspiration from Chinese cliff paintings, and learning to work together: "Each canvas was a battle of paint that transformed what was once two into a single dance, what was old into something new, and what was terrible into something beautiful." An afterword explains how the tale simplifies the life stories of the Zhou Brothers, whose loose-lined, colorful pictures, influenced by both traditional Chinese style and modern sensibilities, depict their own journey. An intimate, inspiring introduction to two contemporary Chinese artists, and a moving reminder of creative work's power. Ages 5-9. (Sept.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Alznauer's text is poetically spare, capturing the tone of a treasured legend and delicately complementing the generous gallery of watercolors the Zhou brothers themselves contribute. An author's note expands historical and biographical details, and a photograph of the adult brothers is also included.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

It's unusual for the subjects of an arts biography to illustrate the story of their own lives, but that's only one of the elements that set this compelling picture book apart...Picture-book biographies of contemporary artists are rare, and this one, which examines not only inspiration and artistic growth but the specific political reality of censorship facing many Chinese contemporary artists, thoughtfully and accessibly explores this timely topic.
—Booklist (starred review)

Through the vibrant ink-and-watercolor paintings by the subjects themselves, readers are immersed in the bold artistic style and spirit of the Zhou brothers. Alznauer's author's note further discusses the Zhou brothers' career as well as elisions and compression made for the sake of narrative clarity. This engaging biography will comfort and inspire.
—Kirkus Reviews

The transformative power of art takes center stage in this picture book biography loosely based on the lives of internationally acclaimed artists and brothers ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou...A fascinating introduction to two contemporary artists who battled adversity and hardships to pursue the higher calling of creative expression. Purchase for large collections where picture book biographies are in demand.
—School Library Journal

Alznauer's engaging text moves briskly, focusing primarily on the brothers' relationship...Readers will be captivated by the book's artful design and vivid ink-and-watercolor illustrations that seamlessly move between intimate family portraits and expansive, expressionistic double-page landscapes. A unique biography that conveys the scope and importance of the subjects' work through original illustrations by the artists themselves.
—The Horn Book

In folktale cadence, Alznauer traces the story of two brothers, Shaoli and Shaoning, who struggle to create lives for themselves as artists in "the new People's Republic of China," which "did not appreciate the high spirits of people who ran their own stores and made their own art."...An afterword explains how the tale simplifies the life stories of the Zhou Brothers, whose loose-lined, colorful pictures, influenced by both traditional Chinese style and modern sensibilities, depict their own journey. An intimate, inspiring introduction to two contemporary Chinese artists, and a moving reminder of creative work's power.
—Publishers Weekly

Amy Alznauer
Amy Alznauer is an author of poetry, essays, and nonfiction for children. Her adult memoir Love & Salt won a Christopher Award. She is also on the mathematics faculty at Northwestern University, where she teaches calculus and number theory. She lives in Chicago.

Daniel Miyares is the author and illustrator of several books for young readers, including Night Out, Bring Me a Rock!, and Float. He is the illustrator of Little Fox in the Snow by Jonathan London. He lives in Lenexa, Kansas.

Classification
Non-fiction
ISBN-13
9781536204285
Lexile Measure
N/A
Guided Reading Level
N/A
Publication date
September 20, 2020
Series
-

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