From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 4—This unusual picture book is a tribute to a real metal sculptor, Mitch Levin, a friend of the author. Devon, a young African-American boy, loves to watch "Metal Man" create art out of junk in his city workshop. When he envisions a house in a shining star, the sculptor helps him to bring his idea into reality. Beautifully understated, the story is about the capacity of art to empower the artist and to affect how others see the world. The poetic text is visceral—readers experience the sounds, vibrations, textures, and heat of the metal shop. "'Whatcha makin', Metal Man? I say./He don't answer. He never does./'Whaddya see?' That's all he says." The cartoon illustrations, in rusty browns and shiny blues, depict the metal man as tall, strong, gentle, and wise, a larger-than-life hero. He encourages Devon to embrace his own vision, but also protects him from the dangerous tools he is not ready to use. In the space of an afternoon, the youngster grows in understanding and confidence. A wonderful example of sensory writing and colloquial storytelling, this would be an excellent book to read before embarking on art projects, museum trips, art-appreciation lessons, or community-helper units, and will inspire independent readers with a desire to try their own hand at sculpture or artistic creation.—Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
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Reynolds works the picture-book format with the same mastery Mitch [the Metal Man] applies to rusty iron. A few offhand remarks, a couple of brief conversations, and a smattering of the young narrator's own observations are transformed into a remarkably clear portrait of Devon as a kid with a lot more going on inside than the adults in his life have noticed or acknowledged. . .
Hoppe's mixed-media illustrations supply the heat and burly muscle the text demands. A controlled hodgepodge of broad brushstrokes and squiggly pencil lines, detailed representations of Mitch at work, and subtle backdrops of simplified forms and diminished colors all invite close, lingering inspection. Just as Reynolds deploys words economically, Hoppe limits his palette, mainly employing two dominant colors. Browns and related tans handle mundane affairs, the surfaces we all see, from the creamy chocolate skin tones of the African-American cast, to the drab workshop and the oxidized metals Mitch will call to life. Blues suggest possibility the heavy machinery that transforms the metal, the hot blue sparks of the torch, the blue background behind Devon as he conjures his star house, the blue shadows cast by Devon when Mitch first invites him into the creative process, even the blue blouse Mama wears when she recognizes her son's interior energy. If Devon is consistently shown as an ordinary kid, speaking volumes through supple body language and facial expressions, Mitch is variously portrayed as a mystery man, a sometimes giant, larger-than-life idol, or an accessible friend, just as Devon views him. He looms over Devon in their initial conversation, abates in size when they work side by side at the table saw, and fills a full two pages as a grinder-wielding titan, bringing out he shine in the metal (and, metaphorically, the boy) that was under there all the time.
Will Devon ever create these wonders entirely on his own? Who knows? Reynolds' audience will certainly agree he's too young to handle the tools and torch just yet. But whatever medium he ultimately adopts as his own or even if he never undertakes an art project at all Devon knows that he can find meaning in visual forms others may miss, that his ideas have value, and that some adults can listen and respect. It's a message that any young artist in the making will welcome, but one that even listeners who will never progress beyond stick men can appreciate, too. --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Literature, starred review