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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever seen an author go about their merry way, making books, minding their own business when BLAMMO they suddenly come out with a title that knocks everyone's socks off? I'm sure you have. The thing is, I'm sure that author/illustrator Catherine Brighton put just as much effort into her previous books (My Napoleon,The Brontes, and The Fossil Girl: Mary Anning's Dinosaur Discovery, amongst others) as she did her newest title, "Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton". Be that as it may be, this book is far and away one of the most impressive picture book biographies I've stumbled over in a very long time. It's a visual stunner that somehow manages to tell the story of Buster Keaton's life without prettying up the past or gumming up the facts. Even if you have never read a picture book biography that blew you away, this title will redefine how you think about faithful biographies for kids. To say nothing of how fun it is.

He was born into a troupe of traveling show people, and the stage was always his home. "I sat on frogs' knees and I talked to wooden dummies while Dad and Mom did their act." It didn't take long before Buster (so nicknamed for a fall or "buster" he took when he was very young) got in on the business himself. He'll tell you a tornado sucked him out of his home, plopping him on Main Street, and maybe that could account for how well he could take a fall. In time it was movies that earned his real love. After pairing up with Fatty Arbuckle the two went on to create films together, thereby launching Buster on the path to fame, fortune, and stardom later down the line.

If I were to condemn an author I knew to a life of unending woe and sorrow, I would probably tell them that they could only write faithful picture book biographies of complex people for the rest of their days. Not everyone can do it, you know. It's an art. Somehow, you have to synthesize a person's entire LIFE into 32 pages. On top of that, you have to be honest and not fudge the facts, while at the same time keeping your book kid-friendly and appropriate. And what if, like Buster Keaton, your hero had a lousy childhood? What then? Well take a couple tips from Catherine Brighton here. First of all, she was smart enough to limit her scope to "The Early Years of Buster Keaton". Now Keaton didn't have the happiest of childhoods, but Brighton doesn't skirt the issue. She tells this story in the first person, Keaton's point of view, with simple sentences. The book doesn't say that his father was a bad person, but at the same time adult readers will note that this was a dad who threw his son across a stage regularly and kept the family moving so that they could avoid child-labor laws. Some might accuse the novel of approaching this history without enough emotion, but like Keaton's deadpan stage face, it doesn't take much to delve beneath the surface and get a true feeling for Keaton's wants and needs. The Author's Note at the back clears up any confusion a person might have after reading this tale, but the story itself is the perfect blend of text and image. There are never more than three sentences on a given page, and yet we get a full sense of Buster's career right from the start.

The art complements the action so completely that it's hard for me to know how to begin to describe it. First of all, when Brighton recounts two of the stories that Keaton told about himself (being sucked out of a window by a tornado and "taking a buster" in front of Harry Houdini), the accompanying picture takes on a myth-like quality. Little Keaton wears his standard unsmiling face in both of these instances, making it feel as if they're simply part of the larger movie that is his life. Little details are spotted throughout such pictures as well. I loved the glimpse of Struwwelpeter (a German children's book that made a mockery of morality tales) we get as Keaton lands on Main Street. Or the way the date of Buster's birth soars towards the reader from the porch of a rooming house, which in turn is framed to look like a movie screen right from page one.

Brighton's style is akin to that of David Wiesner. She uses similar crisp clean lines, but while Wiesner likes to look at shading and tones, Brighton prefers an elegant two-dimensional quality. She loves her angles and dimensions. The perspective in this book is impressive as well. Sometimes you'll be looking down on the action and at other times you're on the level. Brighton borrows some comic book techniques as well, incorporating them seamlessly into the whole. Sometimes words will appear on a page to highlight the action. When Buster and his dog fly into the street there is an accompanying "WOOOSH!" with letters that hang in the air, as physical and tangible as the pup above them. Generally Brighton prefers single words in a scene. "FACE!" "OUT" "MAGIC", to name a few. That's not her only homage to the comic form either. Occasionally on the top of the page thin panels will show trains moving in various states and at various times, indicating Keaton's life on the road. In fact, if you page through the book and watch for the train you can almost see it become the one that bursts through Keaton's house as he films a scene from One Week. Incredible.

Brighton likes to repeat her images as well. When young Buster gets sucked out of his window by a tornado he falls through a window in a manner very similar to older Buster's well-known gag with the falling wall (where he remains uncrushed because of a door). Also, when Buster as a child sees a train coming towards an audience in a film (thereby frightening the people who didn't understand movies yet), that pairs brilliantly with the moment where we see Keaton filming a scene where he is blasted aside as a train plows through his ramshackle house.

Can I praise the Bibliography too, while I'm at it? Now I happen to feel that even the smallest picture book deserves a good Bibliography and I can see that Ms. Brighton is inclined to agree. Not only does she give Some Sources for further Keaton reading but she's even careful to include a list of Some Films that are Keaton movies currently available on DVD. Not all his work is yet available in that format, so it's good of her to indicate what you CAN see rather than taunt you with what you cannot.

It's odd to me that there aren't more bios of silent film stars out there for kids. I mean, silent comedies are just as funny to children as they are to adults. Ipso facto, shouldn't the stories about the people who made them be fun? I've had kids ask me for Charlie Chaplin books before, but there just isn't that much stuff out there. So kudos to Brighton for her choice in this matter.

This book begins with a mildly tweaked quote from a placard that comes at the beginning of the film, Sullivan's Travels, (which is such a great movie anyway). It reads, "To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture (book) is affectionately dedicated." No clown could ask for a higher honor than a book of this nature. Droll, witty, beautiful, and factual, it fulfills every requirement you could have of a picture book biography, rewarding us every time we read and reread it. Truly amazing. Truly fantastic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"Keep your eyes on the Kid" is a beautifully illustrated and penned childrens book by author Catherine Brighton.She brings a unique blend of first person narrative,easy to comprehend language keyed to her demographic(6-10 years?)which all pertains to a real and famous individual;none other than screen legend Buster Keaton.The title comes from the exhortation his father Joe would use when he would toss little Buster around the stage.
The book is about 32 pages long and comes in at a respectable 10"x 10" size.Its' dust jacket mirrors the inner books actual front and back,so if for some reason the jacket gets lost or damaged it will still retain its' original look.
Ms.Brighton has combed several sources for her research and she lists "some"(sic) on the page back.From her sources she then extrapolated them into a first person narrative,in easy to understand text and with a good flow to it throughout.
The entire volume is enchanced with the lavish illustrations included on every page which further draws the reader into the narrative world that unfolds on each page.
Not only a good book from the stand point of just being a good read for children,it is also educational along the way.And I cannot find any fault(fact wise)in the authors' narrative at all which is all the more laudable.She takes the reader from Keatons birth,to his vaudeville days,onto his teaming with Arbuckle and ending with his first successful solo foray into motion pictures.
In conclusion this is just a wonderful volume on all counts;from the easy to read and understand narrative,to the non-fictional story,to the lavish illustrations which abound throughout.Because it doesn't take literary liberties with the facts it is the perfect educational tool also.
I recommend it highly.I would also heartily recommend this volume to all Buster Keaton fans out there.In fact I predict that the day this volume goes out of print it is going to quickly become a collectors item.Keep your eyes on that book!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Keep Your Eye On The Kid; The Early Years Of Buster Keaton", by Catherine Brighton, is a biography for children.

Little Joe Keaton was born in a boarding house in Piqua, Kansas. His parents were traveling show people and Joe spent most of his young life traveling across the country.

One morning Joe took a nasty fall down the stairs. Harry Houdini picked him up and said, "Gee, that was some buster the kid took". The name stuck and Joe was known as "Buster Keaton" from then on.

Buster was incorporated into his parent's comedy show and was known for the sad look on his face.

When he was old enough to leave home, Buster moved to New York and met his vaudeville friend Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Buster worked with Roscoe until he went to California and opened his very own movie studio. His most famous films were made in the 1920s and Buster became a famous silent movie star.

This book features full-page illustrations that add lively detail to the story. The text consists of two or three sentences on each page. The information in the book is factual and entertaining.

There are very few children's picture books that tell the story of the vaudeville era in America. I think this book will send children back to the library or the internet to search for more information about these early entertainers. There is a bibliography at the end of the book that lists all the Buster Keaton films that are now available on DVD.

I have never seen a Buster Keaton film but I am sure going to find one to watch. I am putting "Steamboat Bill, Jr." on my must-see list.
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on November 19, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
A night doesn't pass without my six-year-old son saying, "Papa read Buster Keaton." It's also the perfect segue for me to start watching Buster's movies with my boy. So far his favorite is, "The High Sign". What can I say, he's got good taste. But for myself, a long time Keaton addict and fan, I have to be a little more discerning.
I was happily shocked to find that there was actually a kids picture book about Buster Keaton. But of course kids would get Keaton's comedy, more so than Charlie Chaplin because kids also don't want that sentimental stuff. They're all about action and never stoping, about falling down and getting up and falling down to get up running again, just like Buster. Kids also have that charm and natural grace, never more so than when they're being serious, pulling "The Face", a serious mug like Buster pulled for the camera.
This book gets the story of Keaton's early years right, at least it gets the legends right, as Buster himself used to tell them. The drawings by the writer Catherine Brighton are beautiful too, they remind me of something out of Little Nimo, a role that Buster would've been perfect for given that his early shorts and features were so dreamlike in their elegance.
But why oh why do the drawings of Buster not look anything like him? His face is easy enough to reference and simple enough to draw. Why is the black haired, dark eyed Keaton giving light hair and brown eyes, why does he wear some strange costume when he comes on stage as a child instead of the well documented outfit he actually wore on stage? Brighton draws Buster wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy style suit and a bandanna on his head under his hat which looks like nothing so much as a bandage to keep his broken skull together. I found it very disturbing. And why is his best friend Roscoe Arbuckle, the comedic genius who brought Buster into films just an average looking fat man? Catherine Brighton makes no effort to capture his angelic baby face or his sparkling blue eyes.
There's no mistaking any of the architecture, the trains and the buildings, The reproduction of Keaton's sets look picture perfect, why such difficulty with the people?
Even the great Harry Houdini, who's credited by Keaton himself with giving him his "Buster" nick-name, looks like anybody off the street.
It may seem like I'm making a big deal out of nothing, and I very well may be and I was just gonna let it lie until the scene that shows Buster the night after Roscoe Arbuckle asked him to join his film troop. The legend and the story in the book says that Keaton was so captivated by the camera he asked Roscoe can he bring one home and the ever generous Arbuckle said of course. The story goes, that night Buster took the camera apart piece by piece and put it back together again, forever after having intimate knowledge of how the camera works and how to shoot and direct a motion picture. This story is repeated in all the full-length biographies and even in Keaton's autobiography. So why does the artist, when showing a close-up of his hands taking the camera apart, ignore the fact that Buster lost the first digit on his right index finger when he was about three years old? It happened the same year that the legend, repeated and illustrated in the book, of his being pulled out of his bedroom window by a tornado and landing in the middle of the street unharmed. It would only take one extra line and add to the perception of Buster being impervious to pain and damage.
Little quibbling things but since the book is so much based on illustration I think it would behove Catherine Brighton to get the illustrations correct.
Maybe I'm being too much of a film fanatic and taking apart a wonderful book that can be the first step on a lifelong love of silent films for kids and adults alike.
But if my son does become a lifelong fan like I have I want him to get the facts straight, as much as the facts are available.
Well that's enough complaining from me... go read this book and than read one, or all, of the many biographies of Buster Keaton.
As for myself I'm gonna go join my son and me up in the Damfino's, the international Buster Keaton society.
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on April 27, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
So cool and cute, true account of Keaton's life and childhood. Kids book with great art, but great addition for any Buster Keaton fan!
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is of course a children's book, only not a very engaging or entertaining one. I really only enjoyed it because I love anything about Buster Keaton, but I would never expect a 5 year old to care one lick about the story. While he text is dull and uninspired, the reader can luckily escape into the lovely illustration. This isn't winning any Caldecott's, but for $0.01 plus shipping, I'm not disappointed.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is a CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOK. First of all it is 24 pages not 32 as some count. Second, it consists of full page illustrations (see cover for actual sample) and 1-2 sentences of "story".
This is not an adult auto biography detailing someone's life and giving insight into an astonishing comedic performer.
The child will see funny pictures of another kid who they know nothing of.
An adult will come away with only an empty spot in their pocketbook.
If an adult wants to know more about the great Buster Keaton, there are many fine books that cover his life.
For a child, show them a DVD collection of some of his silents.
2 thumbs down!
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Let's see...parents throw kid in the air to make money, kid gets kicked out of school for being a wisea$$, runs away from home, and spends every available minute watching movies. Yeah, this is the message I want to send to my kids...do stupid crap!

And the story is a real winner too..."dull and uninspiring" one other reviewer called it. Yeah, I guess that sums it up. At least I read it as a bedtime story the one time before I threw it in the trash...it certainly helped my kids off to sleep.

PS-- I can't help but note that at least one of the positive reviews read more like an advertisement for the author's other books...I wonder if that was an independent reviewer?
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