Pros: Vividly illustrated and imaginative tale.
Art is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. But yet, certain works seem to resonate with a broader audience more than others. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and his works, in particular, seem to have become fairly ubiquitous in modern popular culture as well. His images grace mousepads, coffee cups, towels, dishes and other housewares, as well as posters and coffee table books galore. Van Gogh's The Starry Night also serves as the inspiration for a well-done childrens book, The Starry Night by Neil Waldman.
Waldman writes in the foreword that he was drawn to Van Goghs work at a young age and found that:
I could feel their rich vibrating colors resonating within me as I was swept up in the emotion that throbbed within these bold canvases, feeling their pain, sadness, excitement, and rapture, but mostly their abundant joy.
Years later, he felt inspired to create a childrens book based on one of Van Goghs best known works with the intent being to create a book that would tap into the joy that Waldman imagines Van Gogh must have felt in the creation of his art. It is an artist's fantasy come to life type of tale.
Waldmans The Starry Night uses details from Van Goghs paintings to tell the story of a young boy named Bernard who encounters Van Gogh painting in Central Park. Bernard had never seen such vibrant colors before and he stops to watch the painter work. Afterward, they talk and Bernard accompanies Van Gogh to another spot to paint from.
Where are you going? Bernard asked.
To find another place that asks be painted.
Whats your name?
The man smiled.
Do you paint all the time?
Yes, said Vincent. Thats why I am here
The story is then one of master and student as Bernard accompanies Vincent on his rounds throughout New York City and serves as a tour guide of sorts. Van Gogh paints street scenes, and notable NYC landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statute of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, and others including Cafe Borgia in the Village.
The book is very well illustrated in the Van Gogh style: bright vivid images and tight dollops of color throughout as well as artist sketches.
In the end, the question is whether this is a real encounter that Bernard has experienced, or is it an imaginary one brought to fruition when he immerses himself in looking at The Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art (Fifty-Third Street). Bernard is compelled to attempt his own drawing of the work.
Waldman has constructed a likeable tale here, one that will serve to help introduce a child to art in an imaginative way. The Starry Night is well worth looking into (four stars).
[Waldman illustrates the endpapers of the book with children's drawings of the work in question. This may serve to encourage the reader to attempt the drawing with his or her own child as well. We did and it was a fun exchange. I still draw like a third grader, however.]
The Starry Night
Author: Neil Waldman
1999, Boyds Mills Press