Loosely based on the life of Grant Wood, this is the story of the artist’s search for inspiration and his discovery that home—and a cow named Tillie—was all he needed to be happy.
Soft watercolors beautifully depict the rolling hillsides of rural Iowa, where Tillie is so content to live on a farm with her friend Grant that “at milking time, Tillie gave Grant gallons of frothy goodness.” He wants to be an artist, though, dreaming of being taken as seriously as French painters. Leaving Tillie behind, Grant travels to Paris in 1920. Smith’s illustrations nicely capture the Parisian art scene with broad strokes and open spaces, spaces that Wood occupies uneasily, with a beret and goatee that look pasted-on, an outsider who realizes that he needs to go home to paint what he loves. Meanwhile, a forlorn Tillie feels abandoned by her friend and walking companion, wasting away until they’re reunited. The book’s typeface is oddly small for the expansive illustrations and storyline, and it’s sometimes hard to read against the backdrop. A child might wonder why the artist’s eyes are invisible behind his eyeglasses, unlike the bespectacled man in Wood’s famous American Gothic, painted at the end of the story.
Though the factual information about Grant Wood is scanty, this fanciful story represents the power of friendship and the role of the familiar in the creative process. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-7)