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The Grace of Picasso; The Sensibility of Chagall
on July 17, 2004
I'm a big fan of author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, and this book is one of the best of her incredible catalogue: It contains all the essential ingredients that go into a "Polacco." She returns here to her Michigan childhood, and her loving memories of her grandmother "Babushka." Polacco's detailed reminiscence describes how Babushka helped her overcome a fear of thunderstorms.
We identify with the frightened young heroine partly because Polacco so convincingly describes the power and noise of a Midwest thunderstorm. Gradually, Polacco shows how Babushka's patient, strong doses of hugs, distraction, reassurance, and the promise of a special treat gave her the self-confidence to face and surmount her fear. Analyze this too deeply and you'll recognize some basic child-rearing techniques, but Polacco infuses these with so much warmth that they seem to spring, sui generis, from some old folk wisdom held by Babushkas everywhere. The result is a genuinely exciting and lovingly told story enlivened by the fact that it is true.
Polacco's illustrations are a treasure. She has a unique style that combines American influences (Rockwell, American primitives, early cartoons) with eastern European folk art, all drawn in her trademark loopy style. She paints brightly colored, organic looking objects, people, and animals that convey emotion and invite empathy. This is a visual equivalent of a great short story, it seems that every color and line adds to the value of the narrative; yet her achievement remains informal and friendly; it never feels studied or precious. Polacco's sense of fun and tradition, her celebration of family, loved ones, and reminiscence, and her bold imagination remind me of Chagall (though not nearly as abstract.) As usual, she includes her signature goat drawings, recalling as well Chagall's animal motifs.
There's a satisfying warm glow one gets after reading this book; her other books evoke similar feelings. Although praised by many for her outstanding talents, I still somehow feel that she deserves even more recognition as one of the best ever children's book writers/illustrators. Enthusiastically recommended!