By Shane Peacock, illustrated by Sophie Casson. Owlkids Books, 2016. 40 pages. $16.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 5–9.
This beautifully illustrated picture book, easily read by beginner readers, could be used to teach a class about bullying. It also illustrates how children are taught prejudice by their elders. This is a timely concept in today’s world.
Kids are listening. Kids are listening all the time. Grownups should be aware of that when they voice their own prejudices within their earshot. Children today hear things from parents, peers, television, and social media. Gasp! In the setting of this book, the small boy was hearing only the mumblings of the adults in his small village in Southern France. For those who do not know the story of Vincent van Gogh, I do wonder if the tale is as pertinent as it is for those who do. Think about that when reading. Notice that the artist is never identified in the text only in the illustrations.
A small boy in Arles, France, overhears the grownups talking about an artist who lives and paints in their village. His paintings are wild with color and never the exact replica of what he is painting. He is alone. His red hair sticks out in all directions. The rumor is that he is crazy. The small boy torments him with words and deeds of a small bully. When they meet face to face, the painter’s response to his small adversary is to hand him the painting he had just finished. Stop there! And think about what comes next, as I don’t want to reveal the surprise.
If you know Van Gogh’s story, you may guess where the tale is headed. If you don’t (and most young kids will not know about Vincent), you may be surprised by the outcome. Without revealing the ending, let it be said that it provides an opportunity for discussion about bullying, being unkind, and prejudging people who are different. I have mixed emotions about the author not naming the artist, because I think his name would provide another avenue of conversation about doing your own thing and defining creativity.
All in all, The Artist and Me is a fun book to read that is based on a real happening. Any way to help children avoid the act of bullying as the aggressor or the recipient is a good day’s work in my book.