Two inspired illustrated books recently caught my eye; two distinctive palates, two portraits of child artists, two books that distill complicated concepts.
In January, Radiant Child: The Story of the Child Artist John Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe was given the Caldecott Award. A perfect companion book is Niko Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Simone Shin.
Radiant Child focuses on Basquiat’s desire to be an artist from a young age. His mother was an artist and encouraged her son, taking him to museums all over the world. Deep down, he wanted to be a famous artist with his art on the walls of museums he visited. Steptoe gathers the essential details of Basquiat’s childhood and creates resplendent illustrations, paying homage to his subject. Painting on discarded wood, photos, toys, and other objects, Steptoe expands the writing way beyond the bounds of the “story.” He creates a mood, examines culture, and shows how life inspires art.
Contrast Niko Draws a Feeling. Niko has an artistic drive (what some adults might call an obsession) to illustrate how the world makes him feel. Overlaying Niko’s abstract renderings of “the warmth of the sun” or the “work of the Robin Building her Nest” onto the tacit world shows how abstractions are more than scribbles without context. Even with an explanation, no one understands.
It’s important to instill an appreciation for creativity in children, and to remind ourselves how accessible even the most conceptual art can be. No one is too young or too old to be moved by these imaginative books about the creative process.