Fuse #8

Friday, October 27, 2006

Review of the Day: Andy Warhol - Pop Art Painter

The construction of your average everyday children’s book biography is a complex proposition. You have to examine your biographical subject and determine their kid-friendly appeal. If, for example, you are doing a biography of an obscure Pope of limited charm, you may wish to reconsider the task at hand. If, on the other hand, your subject is the infinitely amusing, not to say fascinating, Andy Warhol then you may have better luck. Next, this may shock you, but not all children are the same age. What age group are you writing for? It sounds backwards, but it’s sometimes more difficult to write for younger rather than older children. Author Susan Goldman Rubin, however, has taken the challenge and has fashioned a book that someone under the age of 11 might find of interest. Finally, your pictures. With very few exceptions, young kids are not going to pay your book a whole lot of mind unless you find some cool and colorful photos/art with which to spot your book. In this sense, Ms. Rubin has not been entirely fulfilling. And so, “Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter” is a great read and will certainly have young ‘uns grabbing for it, but it could have been a bit more forthcoming with the pretty pretty pictures of his work. Just my two cents.

He was born Ondrej Warhola in 1928 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Slovakian parents. Never the most athletic of children (at age eight he came down with rheumatic fever), Andy loved comics, paper dolls, and coloring books. Once well, he started going to art classes and it was clear he had found his calling. Readers watch as Andy goes to school, moves to New York, and starts drawing shoes for Glamour magazine. Real pop art was soon to follow as Andy challenged what made something important and worthy of consideration. Can a comic be art if you blow up a frame? What about something as simple as a soup can? What is the worth of celebrity? By showing Andy’s life and the choices he made, Rubin is able to show us a man, his unique style, and why that man and style were important to the world.

Rubin takes certain steps to make the book kid-friendly right from the start. The almost picture book size of this ten by ten inch title makes it clear from the get-go that kids who pick this puppy up won’t have to contest with any 500+ page tomes. The text then pops out at the viewer on top of colored squares that change their hue with the turn of every page. The author also knows that kids like to read about famous people AS kids, so we get a nice glimpse of Andy’s younger years. Mind you, there are only 48 pages in this book and 15 of those are just a Time Line, Glossary, Source Notes, References and Resources, Illustration Credits, and an Author’s Note. Now one of my favorite books about Andy Warhol was, “Uncle Andy’s”, by James Warhola. In that book, Andy Warhol’s actual nephew recounted how he used to visit his favorite uncle once a year and discover through him what “art” was. Rubin doesn’t mention this detail, but does show and tell about Andy’s love of kids. As the book says at one point, “ ‘Children were drawn to Andy like a comic character with his wig askew, glasses and ... jeans,’ remembered Bob Colacello who worked for him for twelve years. ‘Andy loved to talk to kids. He found it interesting.’” And with this book, kids can find Andy interesting right back again.

Here is what I loved. I loved that at the end of the book there was a small section entitled, “Some Museums Where You Will Find Work By Andy Warhol.” Why doesn’t every single biography of an artist DO this? It is infinitely more useful than some of the other stuff they cram into the back of children’s books. Just the same, there is the occasional peculiarity. The Time Line is a bit of an extravagance here. More space filler than anything else, each date included is huge and the nine pages of Time Line after Time Line seem excessive. I would have loved to have seen a lot more of Andy’s work in the book too. Just exchange 8 of those Time Line pages for a couple portions dedicated solely to displaying some cool Warhol work and I’m there. Otherwise, it rankles with the rest of the book.

The other day I covered three tables in my library’s Story Hour Room with books published in the year 2006. At 4 o’clock that day I led in my homeschooler bookgroup, a small collection of kids between the ages of nine and twelve. I told them that we’d be doing something a little different that week. Instead of everyone reading the same book, the kids would have a chance to grab whichsoever book most tickled their fancy. They’d take it, read it over break, and return it to me the next week. Some kids snatched up Susan Cooper’s, “Victory”. Others took great pleasure in reading Janet Taylor Lisle’s, “Black Duck”. And sure as shooting, one of my more reluctant readers found a great deal to love in “Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter”. It’s a lovable book. There are things that I would have changed about it, but that doesn’t make it any less of a wonder. If you’re going to have one children’s biography of Andy Warhol, let it be this one. Definitely a keeper.


At 11:43 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

"Uncle Andy's" is definitely a supplement to a book like "Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter". I just wish that both books could have put in a little more art.

At 9:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betsy- Thanks for finding me another biography to put on my book order list.

I went to the Warhol museum in BFE Slovakia in the early 1990's. It was quite an experience.


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