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The Sign Painter Hardcover – October 30, 2000

4.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like a 1930s cinematographer, Say (Grandfather's Journey), in perhaps his best work to date, pays tribute to a bygone era with a brief slice-of-life story about a boy's encounter with a sign painter. Neither the boy nor the sign painter has a name; what carries their connection and the story is their mutual love of painting. In the opening scene, Say depicts an Asian-American boy standing in front of an urban backdrop, right out of Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning: the red and green strip of storefronts and barber pole provide an ideal backdrop for the young painter's uniform of black trousers and white button-down shirt. From here, Say's full-page panel paintings almost tell the story by themselves. As the boy helps the sign painter work on a billboard, they receive a commission to paint a dozen more, all featuring a woman's face. Thus begins a journey across barren landscapes, through dust storms and into the foothills of a spectacular mountain range. The blonde woman on the billboards could have stepped out of a Hopper painting; one day, in a fleeting moment, she drives past the two paintersDlike Barbie in her pink Cadillac, in stark contrast to the desert scene. The purpose of the painters' enigmatic mission comes together like pieces of a puzzle through snippets of an overheard conversation. And when the job is finished, the boy, now returned to the city, stands in front of the corner bar from Hopper's Nighthawks, empty of customers. One can't help feeling wistful while gazing at this final scene. Say subtly and ingeniously blends a feeling of nostalgia with a hard-hitting immediacy. Even though young readers will not grasp its message as fully as adult readers, the images and the boy's passion as an artist will remain with them. All ages. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 3-5-Puzzling is perhaps the best way to describe this latest offering from one of our most talented illustrators. The quirky, quasi-surreal tale begins with a young Asian-American man disembarking from a bus in a strange town. It's early in the morning and he makes his way to a sign shop where he asks for employment. When he tells the owner that he can paint, he's put to work. The two men soon receive a mysterious commission to paint a dozen billboards along a lonesome road running through the desert. The subject of the billboards is a blonde woman featured alongside the words "ArrowStar." After weathering a fierce dust storm, the painters are nearly run over by the real-life ArrowStar model's car and then spy in the distance the looming metal towers of ArrowStar-a rollercoaster. Eavesdropping reveals that it was constructed in anticipation of a highway being built. Its owner is apparently still clinging to his dreams of amusement-park glory despite unfavorable odds and the loss of his ArrowStar girl. The painters slip away unnoticed, pondering the power of dreams. The young man leaves for parts unknown the next day. Very painterly illustrations conjure up an earlier decade, perhaps the 1950s, and different scenes pay homage to Edward Hopper's cityscapes and Georgia O'Keeffe's Southwest landscapes. While the story's stark visuals match the almost existential tone of the text, they may not engage young readers. Similarly, the narrative is more likely to baffle children than drive home its message about honoring one's dreams, artistic or monolithic.
Rosalyn Pierini, San Luis Obispo City-County Library, CA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: 250L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395979749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544105140
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 11 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,248,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just found this book and was fascinated by the fact that he does so much with so little. I spent a wonderful hour or so trying to track down the artists he is obviously referring to. Because he doesn't include them anywhere in the book, it's like a treasure hunt. The Edward Hopper references are obvious on the first and last page. There's Norman Rockwell (the older sign painter sitting and painting when we first meet him), Ansel Adams (a black and white of a mountain), Magritte (a billboard with clouds), and a nod to Georgia O'Keefe (the cattle skull). There appears to be a reference to Russell and/or Remington with the scene of the two main characters sitting at a campfire against a big sky, but I didn't get around to finding an actual painting since I was pressed for time. The whole situation of the book seems to refer to Andy Warhol and pop art/advertising, but I couldn't find a Warhol work that was specifically used. There are several illustrations that seem to have references (a bright magenta convertible with a blonde driving, a road leading into a stylized landscape, a huge structure of scaffolding, etc.) that I haven't been able to place, but I'm planning on having fun searching with my kids! My husband had fun seeing if he could place them also (not to mention the librarian who was helping me! One of the reasons I'm writing this review is so if others are looking for what the references are they can find a more complete list than I was able to find -- I hope others add their observations!).

The story itself is, like many other Allen Say books, somewhat autobiographical and dreamlike. Not your typical children's book at all. If you're looking for a neat way to give a wide age range of kids an introduction to 20th c. art (mostly American), this is great.
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Format: Hardcover
I normally don't refer to or mention reviews written by other reviewers here on Amazon as each of us has our own song to sing and I always feel intrusive when I reference their work, but in this case I sort of feel a need to. After reading this work and more or less writing my review in my head I came here and read the review by L. Vaughn. I was instantly filled with chagrin as this reviewer has absolutely nailed this book and in addition to that she (?) stole a goodly part of my thunder. Please read L. Vaughn's review...it is quite good! Grrrrrr.

Anyway....

I spent quite some time reading the work being reviewed here; actually I read it several times over a period of several days. I must tell you truthfully that I was completely and absolutely taken. There is so very, very much in this work and the more you read it and study it, the more you find; the more thoughts you have and the more you tend to abscess over it...anyway, I did and do.

A young man of obviously oriental background arrives by bus in a small town. He is tired and obviously quite young. He needs work. He surveys his surroundings and finally spots a sign shop. He enters the shop and after a brief conversation and a display of his artistic skills, he is hired by the older sign painter. They are contracted to paint billboard signs across the desert. Only a woman's face is to be painted on the billboard along with the word "ArrowStar." What is ArrowStar, who is the young lady? The journey begins.

Stark landscape, mountains, desert, barren waste...the painting of billboards continues. It becomes quite evident rather quickly that the young man is an artist in the truest sense...he want desperately to be true to himself and to his art.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful story about a young man's pursuit of his dream. The artwork is incredible. The author pays homage to many artists in this book - including Hopper, Rockwell, and O'Keefe to name a few. My sons - ages 7 and 9 both enjoyed it as did their classmates. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great! Third graders loved it. I used it to teach so many reading, language, writing, and social studies skills! Students were eager to read and revisit text over and over. They still go back and get the book to retread hoping to uncover just a little more! Thanks again to Allen Say!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoy this author. Deep meaning is always present. I like to see if my students can tell me what he was thinking when h e wrote it.
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