A reluctant schoolboy is sent to study the works of Edgar Degas at the fictional Museum of Fine Art in Isaacson’s debut, which features full-color reproductions.
When Jack Hughes, a skateboard enthusiast, arrives at school one morning, his teacher sends him off to the city’s art museum in a bid to get the young boy to improve his essay writing. With its “polished ivory marble floors” and a “humorless, uniformed man” standing around, the museum intimidates the young lad. The 13 Degas paintings—featuring “[s]cenes of girls in frilly ballet tutus,” “a plump lady singing in an outrageous red dress” and “a shopping scene in a lady’s hat shop”—don’t do much to raise his spirits. At first, this may not seem to be the most exciting premise, yet Isaacson’s attempt to make fine art exciting in the form of a story for children is nevertheless a satisfying examination of Edgar Degas’ artwork, as well as a painting by Frederic Remington, which “[m]agnetically” pulls Jack in. (Not that it’s a wholly original idea; readers might be reminded in particular of James Mayhew’s Katie series.) Degas, who had a lifelong love of music and opera, acquired a reputation as a painter of dancers. Together with Jack, readers are able to study the paintings in impressive detail, while the author’s enthusiasm becomes infectious as the book looks deeper into 19th-century rooms and parlors; eventually, the voice of one of the painting’s subjects also discusses the various paintings with Jack. With its fairly wordy text and analyses of art, this book might not sit easily on picture-book shelves, but it will appeal to a relatively older audience looking for a quirky intro to Degas’ place in impressionism.
An engaging story for young readers eager to look at the world with an artist’s eye.