Title: ABC and Shape
Ages: 0 to 3
Published by: National Gallery of Victoria
A set of two books by the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, these were a gift from Aneela. Glossy books that illustrate simple concepts such as shapes and the alphabet through art, they are the perfect gift for an art lover's child and can be handled roughly and simply cleaned up with a damp-ish rag. They also take over where other books for toddlers end.
I've always found it rather distressing that at their most impressionable, children are simply taught by rote that A is a shape that merely stands for an apple. 'A', offers this book, is for Art made in Australia. The illustration accompanying it being not a flat, regular apple, but prominent Australian artist Tom Roberts' work, Shearing the Rams.
'B', on the other hand is simpler. It's for Beach, a photograph by Max Dupain, a modernist photographer. J, is for a jumper, by Jenny Kee, an Australian fashion designer who drew on Australia's culture and art and landscape for inspiration. In short, every page showcases something of Australia's varied art and culture and it does so without being preachy. Children absorb like little sponges and while the Brat and Bean don't know that the pages they are poring over are famous pieces of art, it feels good to know that they will feel a connection with Margaret Dodd's distinctive car collection even if they never remember the page titled 'C' for Car from their distant childhood.
The shapes book goes a step further. A Toots Zynsky bowl (below) urges them to explore swooshes and swirls and suggests that they find a parallel in nature.
A delirious Pucci print encourages them to explore and go wild. A Mexican mask carved simple and stark begs them to describe the shapes used. Modernist sculptor Joseph Csaky's works are described in simple terms "climbing cones crawl over the shoulders of solid shapes: stretching, sliding, scrambling towards the top of the tower", giving language and imagination a boost. I could go on but I will stop and mention that growing up with Van Gogh's Starry night and Sunflowers made a bit of a difference to my life. More so because American pop culture and Indian traditional art forms are easily available to our children. Australian art and culture? Not so much. The Brat and the Bean have long outgrown the books but at the time they were received, they were the cause of much delight.
My only issue as I recommend these books is that they are not easily available. On the other hand, they alert you to the possibility of picking up other such books from museums and galleries if you're looking to make art accessible to your child. And the next time someone from Australia asks you what you want, you'll have something other than a boomerang to request.
Image source: Wikimedia