This lovely book shows children how different cultures and times have depicted simple concepts—rain, cat, chair, etc.—in works of art.
The idea behind this book is simple but powerful: take several dozen basic images, mostly but not entirely of animals, and illustrate each with five or six artworks, one per page, from a wide range of cultures. For example, “hare” is illustrated with full-color examples from Dürer, an ancient Grecian pottery vase, an ancient Islamic bestiary, a Japanese woodblock print, a medieval Italian watercolor, and an Iranian pottery tile. Next to each photograph is a one-word caption in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, giving children a chance to learn some foreign vocabulary. The final section—simply titled “?”—shows uncaptioned works featuring the same basic images, giving readers a chance to make their own connections. Hovaguimian (Henry’s Dragon Dream, 2013, etc.) explains that the book is primarily meant to be read by an adult and child together, but adults will also enjoy solo gazing at these evocative pages. The well-chosen artworks are thoughtfully arranged for similarity in scale and composition, which allows viewers to compare and contrast more fruitfully. Techniques and materials shown include fabric appliqué, ceramic, wood, tile, and oil, watercolor, and ink paint. (Captions give full provenance, and the images have been used with permission.) The works depicted reveal culture in thought-provoking ways: “house,” for instance, can mean a sturdy brick edifice, a teepee, or a beehivelike hut. Fodder for discussion lies in comparing artistic styles and effects—the haughty Chinese camel has little in common with the Henry Moore–ish camel, also Chinese. The book goes well beyond nice pictures of museum pieces; its juxtapositions create an unexpectedly magical effect. Under “cow,” it’s captivating to see the same gracefully upswept horns meeting each other across the millennia: on one page, a painted American buffalo-hide shield from 1850; on the other, an African wall painting circa 2,500 B.C.E. The artists’ fellowship of vision across time and place is simple, striking, and surprisingly moving.
Delightful, magical, and beautiful—should be a classic.