Friday, November 19, 2010

Art & Max

Image source: Houghton Mifflin
Author/Illustrator: David Wiesner
Ages: All Ages
Publisher: Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin

It is no secret that we here at ST *love* David Wiesner. Satish introduced us to Free Fall, Tuesday, Three Pigs (see a pattern there?!) and we enjoyed Flotsam thanks to utbt.
We at the Kodi household devoured all four books, but the whimsical fantasy of flying frogs in Tuesday was most loved of all.

So when Satish told us about the latest Wiesner book, it took me only half a minute to see if my library had it, but two whole weeks before I could get it in my hands, and what a treat it was!

Art & Max is a kid's book for grown ups. You can say that of all Wiesner books, can't you? A book that can appeal to a child's level of humor while tugging at the stuffy adult's realm of reality. For a kid reading Art & Max for the first time might be puzzling. It is not laid out in a typical picture book format, it reads somewhat like a comic strip, so to follow the sequence of events, and to relate each dialogue to each character might take a couple of readings. But the book's charm lies in how once that initial hurdle is crossed, it appeals to the child's mind at several levels - there is humor, fantasy, art to be admired and marveled at, begging for more and more readings.

The storyline - or what little I am about to write of it - goes like this. Art is a biped desert lizard and a snobbish artist, who specializes in painting portrait stills of fellow lizards. Max is an eager student. Much like an annoying younger sibling, Max jumps excitedly at Art's work, interrupts his portrait session, eager to try his hand at the canvas. With Art's nod of approval, he quickly sets up his 'studio' against a cactus. Except...he has no idea what to paint.

"But, what do I paint?" he asks Art for direction.
"Well....why don't you paint me?" replies a proud Art in a posing stance.

Pause the story for a second and imagine how a 2 year old, paintbrush in one hand and can of paint in other, might react to that statement? That should give you a clue about the chaos and deconstruction that ensues.

An explosive temper, some dissolving of the ego, unraveling of tightly held beliefs and several stretches of imagination later, the destroyed art is restored and finely resolved.

It would be hard for me to describe the illustrations this book, without revealing any more of the story. All I'll say is David Wiesner excels. The landscape is barren and we see the outline of cacti and low hills in the far distance, the foreground a perfect shade of desert orange. The expressions on each character are sketched out to amazing detail. I found it interesting that of all possible creatures, desert lizards were the subject of choice. But if you think about it, with their large bulgy eyes that can express dismay or elation; a wide mouth that can curl up to a grin or a grimace; a curious neck that can hang in despair or stick out in pride and a tail that has its own personality, there couldn't have been better subjects to tell this tale. Every part of the lizard, down to the last scale, is sketched out to detail and in Art, in particular, all of these details are crucial to the story.

Art & Max is a project in art restoration that has to be experienced. Now, this review might have some of you googling for the whole story. I urge you not to, for watching the story unfold is the real treat. Sharing it with the child at home is even better. After you do that, do come back here to decipher the code in italics!


sathish said...

The lizard is an odd choice. We hardly see lizards in other picture books. It was fascinating to read your take on that. I will not look at the lizard as a dull one any longer.

A interesting review, KM as usual. Thank you. Now, if only I can lay my hands on the book (oops. sorry, I meant for my kids).

Anonymous said...

What a splendid review ! You have added an element of mystery to the book, which makes it even more alluring and makes me want to get hold of it ASAP !!


Vibha said...

Wow! a great review of another interesting book.

Choxbox said...

Going right up at the top of the wish-list. Weisner *is* God!

sandhya said...

WoW! A great review, with an activity to do! Will try to get my hands on the book ASAP.

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