Review: Art & Max by David Wiesner
His first book in four years, David Wiesnerâ€™s Art & Max brings to mind Chris Van Allsburgâ€™s Bad Day at Riverbend in the way it deconstructs the concept of illustration. Like that book, it also manages to have a little fun along the way.
There are actually two narratives going on here â€“ the first is the story of Max learning to become an artist, the second is an unspoken evolution of artistic media and styles. The eager Max wants to learn how to paint, and approaches an accomplished artist (the horned, hulking Arthur) to learn how. But Max takes Artâ€™s instruction literally, using Arthur as his canvas and covering him in paint.
Maxâ€™s attempts to fix the problem only make things worse, as Art transitions from acrylic to pastel to watercolor depictions. When all that is left is a kinked black line piled on the ground, Max must use his artistic talent to put his mentor back together.
If weâ€™re looking at artistic merit, this book has it in Caldecott level spades. Using acrylic, pastel, watercolor, and india ink (all of which figure into the story itself), Wiesner has concocted one of the more uniquely beautiful books of the year. The flat desert setting is inhabited by gangly lizards with some very human expressions and characteristics.
My qualms. As the book begins it isn’t clear which character is speaking. It takes a moment to realize that Maxâ€™s words are represented in a sans serif font, while Art speaks in a more traditional typeset. Also, some of the transitions that Art goes through might leave kids with questions that require some informed support (Does oil paint create a powdery pastel residue when removed? How can Maxâ€™s climactic blast of paint result in a Seurat-esque stipple dot image, and not a Jackson Pollack splatterfest?). These small hitches may throw off a few readers.
A wonderful pick for introducing artistic media, styles, technique, and freedom in a classroom setting, the success of this book hinges on how well the deconstruction element goes over with readers. It will be in my school library collections, however, I canâ€™t help but feel like Art & Max wonâ€™t connect with as many readers as Wiesnerâ€™s past efforts.
Review copy from publisher
Watch David Wiesner discuss the evolution of Art & Max:
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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