RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe

Click to purchase

Click to purchase

The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Winner of the 2017 Randolph Caldecott Medal
Winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

As my regular readers know, I don’t review many children’s books but I can’t resist reading the Caldecott winner each year. They are always excellent children’s books and this year was no exception.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

From the publisher:

Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist, not knowing that one day he would make himself a king.

Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.

I love Basquiat so this book was a natural for me. I didn’t know about how difficult his life was as a child, only that he died young of a drug overdose. Learning about his early influences and his compulsion to create his art was really interesting. I was reminded of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, about a Hasidic boy with a passion for art that is forbidden by his family and his culture. Nevertheless, as a young child he wakes up to find drawings on the wall next to his bed. Basquait also drew during the night.

My only criticism of the book is the child Basquait is inspired by Picasso’s “Guernica” when his mother takes him to see it. That famous, disturbing piece is reproduced on an angle in the book, but is not labeled in any way, so unless the reader is familiar with it, there is no way to tell what it is.

But that is minor criticism indeed. This is a gorgeous book and a fantastic introduction to art for the elementary age child.  “In his house you can tell a serious ARTIST dwells.” You certainly can.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 25, 2016). ISBN 978-0316213882. 40p.

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