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.