"What a gorgeous painting," exclaimed the judge of Ms. Fair's first-grade art contest. "What a beautiful rabbit!" For Emily, the words are a shock. Her painting is of her dog, Thor. Not a rabbit. But instead of thinking: What's wrong with this judge? Emily takes the words, and the judgment, to heart. Just as she takes her art. Not everyone, not Ms. Fair, or even Emily's best friend, Kelly, can see that. At first.
K-Gr 3-As with all inspired artists, Emily's paintings reflect her unique perceptions. The child paints her beloved teacher with golden wings and her dog with exceptionally large ears, "Because Thor hears everything." The story, however, really begins before the title page with a provocative classroom discussion of the upcoming art contest-and the process of singling out an entry as the best. When the judge dismisses Emily's picture of Thor (because she was once bitten by a dog) in favor of a butterfly painted by Emily's best friend (under her tutelage), the child's pain is palpable. Throughout the book, Catalanotto voices the concerns and reactions of children quite convincingly. Like his protagonist, he conveys a heightened reality in his watercolor, gouache, and acrylic spreads. His backgrounds resemble the richness of Rothko canvases (albeit with more light); this choice simultaneously focuses more attention on the children in the foreground and subtly supports the central theme regarding the qualities of "fine" art. Insets allow for sequential messages and multiple perspectives. Many of the illustrations superimpose images on silhouettes or transparent figures on visible backgrounds, pulling readers into the character's interior world. Whether viewed from afar or up close, this creative and heartfelt book is a masterpiece.-Wendy Lukehart, Harrisburg School District, PA Copyright 2001 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Catalanotto (The Painter; Dylan's Day Out) subtly conveys the value of creating art for art's sake in this tender picture book. When Emily's first grade teacher announces an art contest for which a judge will choose the best entry, Emily is skeptical: "Does the judge know which is better?" she asks. Nevertheless, each day Emily paints a new piece of art and, near the end of the week, she chooses to display "her new favorite," a watercolor of her dog, Thor, with his rather large ears at attention. When the judge first chooses Emily's piece because she mistakes Thor for a rabbit then rejects Emily's painting when she learns he's a dog (because of the judge's fear of dogs), Emily buries her painting (" I'll never paint again, ' she whispers"). But a reassuring exchange with her best friend rekindles Emily's passion to paint. Catalanotto creates visually arresting scenes; in several spreads, he places Emily's and other students' art in the forefront, while his own fluid, more defined watercolor-and-acrylic compositions carry the narrative forward in smaller panels elsewhere on the page. He carefully crafts each scene to depict a new step in Emily's emotional journey (she appears to be nearly transparent when she's feeling blue, for example), which gives the text a satisfying resonance. Aspiring Picassos everywhere will find much to contemplate and cheer about here. Ages 5-8. (June) Copyright 2001 Publishers Weekly Used with permission.
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