Anholt continues his series of introductory picture books about the artists with this entry on Marc Chagall.
As he did in Cézanne and the Apple Boy (2009), Anholt uses the artist’s relationship with a child—in this case, children—as a hook to draw young readers in. Here “Papa” Chagall’s twin grandchildren elicit a sequence of anecdotes in which Chagall relates the story of his life, from his impoverished childhood in the Russian shtetl, through meeting his wife, moving to Paris and fleeing the Nazis, to success in his old age. Loose, warm ink-and-watercolor paintings depict children and grandfather against relaxing expanses of white space, with dream-bubble insets illustrating Chagall’s memories. Reproductions of some of his more famous paintings are incorporated, with child-friendly glosses: “The twins saw…a weird cat on a windowsill….” The boy Chagall’s penchant for surrealism is validated in his first patron’s reaction: “These paintings are funny!…But they are very, very good.” By and large, Anholt’s simple narrative approach works well, though his glossing over the Holocaust with the summation that “[s]ome bad people came—they hated me and they did not like my paintings” will mystify children, particularly when juxtaposed with images of destruction in both memory and Chagall’s own reproduced work. Though the Holocaust is discussed in a biographical note at the end, it’s too bad it’s not confronted more directly in the text.
Nevertheless, it’s an engaging entry in a winning series. (Picture book. 5-8)