An intriguing, but uneven project in art education that delivers animal illustrations and rhymes.

If Picasso Went To The Zoo


From the If Picasso series

In this children’s book, 50 teachers create works emulating their favorite artists, with a twist.

In this follow-up to If Picasso Had a Christmas Tree (2014), Gibbons has again asked art teachers (elementary level to high school) to contribute works that introduce artists to child readers through pastiche. This time, each image includes an animal whose name is alliterative with the artist’s: Picasso and polar bear, Harriet Powers and pelican, Alice Baber and bison. As that short lists shows, the artists chosen stray far beyond the usual suspects. Genres range from Renaissance to contemporary styles, with interesting results for the less representational works, such as a minimalist tarantula consisting of eight rectangular pillars striped with color. Other contributors solve this problem by including a realistic element among an abstract rendering: Jackson Pollock’s entry, for example, includes a recognizable pig among the drips and splashes. In addition, a key provides information on each animal’s endangerment status, and inter-curricular lesson extensions are available online. Gibbons, an artist and educator, writes a 10-line rhymed introduction for each work. The poem aims to give a sense of the artist’s style, each beginning “If [name] went to the zoo, / is this the kind of illustration she [or he] would do?” The rest of the verse gives some information about the artist and/or subject as well as the animal being depicted. Unfortunately, Gibbons’ lines are often padded with unnecessary words or meaningless phrases (for example, “it just feels so right”), making them less effective. Also, young readers are unlikely to catch allusions like “for more than 15, this man [Warhol] was a star.” The other difficulty with the author’s format is that his intended audience probably doesn’t know the originals, making the pastiche less effective. Wouldn’t the best way to introduce and honor artists be through their own pieces? And illustrators children might know, such as Beatrix Potter or Arthur Rackham, already include many animals in their works, making their possible zoo-inspired pictures not much of a leap. In others, like a charming Lichtenstein-inspired leopard, the zoo/artist concept succeeds.

 An intriguing, but uneven project in art education that delivers animal illustrations and rhymes.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-940290-42-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Firehouse Publications

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2015

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Hee haw.

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The print version of a knee-slapping cumulative ditty.

In the song, Smith meets a donkey on the road. It is three-legged, and so a “wonky donkey” that, on further examination, has but one eye and so is a “winky wonky donkey” with a taste for country music and therefore a “honky-tonky winky wonky donkey,” and so on to a final characterization as a “spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.” A free musical recording (of this version, anyway—the author’s website hints at an adults-only version of the song) is available from the publisher and elsewhere online. Even though the book has no included soundtrack, the sly, high-spirited, eye patch–sporting donkey that grins, winks, farts, and clumps its way through the song on a prosthetic metal hoof in Cowley’s informal watercolors supplies comical visual flourishes for the silly wordplay. Look for ready guffaws from young audiences, whether read or sung, though those attuned to disability stereotypes may find themselves wincing instead or as well.

Hee haw. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-26124-1

Page Count: 26

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2018

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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