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THE ARTIST AND ME
Owlkids Books - Ages: 5-8 years
Vincent van Gogh is now known as an acclaimed, incomparable Post-Impressionist painter. But when he lived in Arles, France, in the 1880s, he was mocked for being different. Back then, van Gogh was an eccentric man with wild red hair who used clashing hues to paint unusual-looking people and strange starry skies. Children and adults alike called him names and laughed at him. Nobody bought his art. But he kept painting.
Inspired by these events, The Artist and Me is the fictional confession of one of van Gogh’s bullies — a young boy who adopted the popular attitude of adults around him. It’s not until the boy faces his victim alone that he realizes there is more than one way to see the world.
Artwork in the book uses vibrant color and texture to bring the laneways, cafés, and wheat fields of southern France to life while playing on scenes from van Gogh’s own work. The lyrical text carries the emotional weight of the subject and will leave readers with the understanding that everyone’s point of view is valuable.
A low-key yet powerful picture-book evocation of the final days of an eccentric artist who was both a victim of his own demons and the target of village bullies.
The outcast artist is Vincent Van Gogh. The thoughtful, unnamed narrator of this impressive first-person fictive confessional is an older man who was one of the boys who brutalized Vincent: “In the beautiful countryside in Southern France near the town of Arles long ago, I used to do an ugly thing. / I tormented someone.” In a way that’s neither ham-fisted nor didactic, the young boy’s inchoate fear of the Other in the person of the artist is balanced by his late-in-life regret and guilt. Peacock’s wonderfully paced, poetic text evidences strong understanding of the power of the page turn and how it can masterfully scaffold the storyline. Inclusive backmatter reinforces the impression that Peacock drew on solid scholarship, including Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s well-received Van Gogh: The Life. The text is balanced with Casson’s sensitive, hand-drawn images augmented with fluent Photoshop-layered colors (intended to evoke the silk-screen technique so admired in Van Gogh’s time). The spreads are given an additional intimacy via a final overworking with pastel.
A brilliant collaboration: simple, resonate, superb. (biographical note, author’s note) (Picture book. 5-8)
Although the title suggests that this picture book about Vincent van Gogh is told from the viewpoint of a friend, it’s actually narrated by an elderly man who, in his youth, tormented the artist. The young, unnamed narrator is one of many in a small French village who mock and harass the disturbed painter.
While the child is actually intrigued by the artwork and surreptitiously admires van Gogh’s paintings, he cannot overcome the pressure to ostracize him. Years later, he views the priceless paintings on gallery walls. The pastel-style illustrations in rich colors are reflective of van Gogh’s oil paintings and feature some elements of his most famous images. The final page includes an author’s note, a brief bibliography, and details about van Gogh, including his poor treatment at the hands of others. This provides a glimpse into the darker side of van Gogh’s life and a real-life context for the effects of bullying, which will spark interest and encourage discussion. — Randall Enos
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