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BETWEEN THE LINES

Artistic books for children with inspiring messages

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 11:13pm

My daughter has been taking weekly art classes for more than a year. In the beginning, her favourite thing about going there was that those who arrived early could watch cartoons in the waiting room until class started. Then she entered painting competitions and started to win the occasional prize, and her interest in drawing was piqued by her growing confidence and her gushing parents.

Neither my husband nor I are artistically inclined. We appreciate art but cannot create it. And so, to give my daughter a further boost in her artistic endeavours, I read her books about budding artists' first encounters with art and what constitutes art.

Art & Max is the latest offering from the brilliant visual storyteller David Wiesner. Arthur is a great painter and Max is a keen beginner who thinks that he, too, can paint. Max's enthusiasm stems from his lack of awareness of his own shortcomings, and therein lies the humour. When Max is at a loss for what to paint, the great Art suggests that he be Max's subject. He generously offers, "Well … you could paint me." Max complies by spraying paint all over Art. The adventure begins and the story gets crazier and crazier.

The banter between these two unlikely friends reminds me of Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in the film Meet the Parents, where the prospective son-in-law believes himself to be a decent fellow, until he comes under the disapproving eye of the prospective father-in-law.

While I am blown away by the gorgeously illustrated lizards in Art & Max, my daughter is more enthralled by the two art books of Peter H. Reynolds, The Dot and Ish.

The Dot is the story of a reluctant art student whose teacher patiently nurtures her interest in art while helping to change her perception of what art is. For example, when the student hasn't produced anything by the end of class, the teacher looks at the blank paper and offers, "Ah! A polar bear in a snow storm."

The story is well told and the pencil drawing style of Reynolds is simple and direct. I also love the fact that the student's name is Vashti, a distinctly ethnic name.

In Ish, Ramon is a boy who loves to draw. One day his older brother looks over his shoulder at one of his new creations and laughs, "What is that?" After that, Ramon starts and then crumples many sheets of paper because he no longer feels that any of his drawings look "right". Later, he stops drawing altogether.

Ramon's passion for drawing is rekindled after his younger sister takes all his crumpled drawings and shows him how the vase he was supposed to draw looks "vase-ish" and the tree he was trying to draw looked "tree-ish". With this new viewpoint, Ramon realises he loves making his special "ish" drawings.

Both of Reynolds' stories see the child artist change his or her perspective of what constitutes art, although one starts with a little girl reluctant to even try, and the other starts with a little boy who draws everything all the time. The message in these stories is inspiring.

Louise Yates' Dog Loves Drawing is a companion to Dog Loves Books. Dog Loves Drawing follows the development of book-lover turned bookshop owner Dog's interest in drawing. The illustrations become increasingly complex and complement the story well.

I Gotta Draw is a new book by Bruce Degen, an illustrator best known for his Jamberry storybook full of rhymes that flow so easily from the lips.

In I Gotta Draw, Charlie is described as "the pup with the pencil, the mutt with the marker, the dog with the drawing pad, the chap with the chalk!" He loves to draw but trouble looms when his strict teacher discovers that Charlie has doodled all over his homework.

Parents and children alike will be able to relate to the story's interplay between creating free-flowing art at home and producing neatly written homework at school.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy through reading aloud to them and providing easy access to the best children's books for underserved communities across Hong Kong. bringmeabook.org.hk

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