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Vincent van Gogh & the Colors of the Wind Hardcover – January 18, 2011
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-This book follows van Gogh from childhood through the development of his tumultuous artistic career, concluding with his untimely death. In tracing the events of the artist's life, the author explores his close relationship with his younger brother, Theo, through excerpts from their personal correspondence. Darker elements of van Gogh's life, such as alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide, are touched upon in a way that is honest but not gratuitous. Large, imaginative illustrations match the lyrical quality of the text, while bold brushstrokes, vivid color, and images of sunflowers subtly evoke the artist's style. Reproductions of van Gogh's paintings are deftly integrated into many of the illustrations, providing readers with a look at his artistic evolution. While a background in art history is not required for a basic understanding of this title, the casual name-dropping of van Gogh's artistic peers and oblique references to characteristics of Impressionism might be lost readers unfamiliar with the subject. Although the narrative is largely fact-based, thoughts and feelings are significantly fictionalized. Most notably, a recurring motif of the wind as a confidant and guiding force in the artist's life detracts from this title's appropriateness for school reports. Although beautifully written and illustrated, this title is an additional purchase for a limited audience.-Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This literary look at an artistic life, originally published in Italy, follows van Gogh’s many challenges and passions from childhood to death. His brother Theo plays a large role; in fact, Lossani says she was inspired by the siblings’ letters to write this title. Unfortunately, the book’s many quotations are undocumented, leaving it unclear whether any direct excerpts from the van Gogh brothers’ correspondence are actually included in the text. Fourteen reproductions of the artist’s works are integrated into the surreal,collage illustrations, which place portraits of the painter in color-saturated settings of floating windmills, shifting clouds, giant sunflowers, and splashing paint and are well-matched to the mood and tone of the words. While the text, written in lyrical stanzas, closes abruptly and may feel overlong for the picture-book format, the lines are descriptive and informative and may inspire young people to, like van Gogh, connect with nature, listen to their hearts, and ask themselves about their passions: “What will you do next? What will you become?” Grades 3-6. --Andrew Medlar
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He was born in 1853 in Holland. His brother Theo came four years after that. Even from the start, though, Vincent van Gogh was a difficult guy to get along with. While Theo is good at making friends, Vincent is off-putting. This tendency doesn't lessen any as they grow older, and Vincent has a way of getting fired from various occupations (gallery employee, preacher, etc.). When at last he turns to painting, Vincent finally finds what he needs. Even so, nothing's ever easy. In Holland he paints too dark, in Paris he makes Theo's life difficult. In Arles he finds the colors he needs but grows depressed, and back in Paris nothing's quite right. Finally, in Auvers Vincent shoots himself and dies at home at the age of thirty-seven. Six months later, Theo joins his brother in death.
Going into the book I knew from the outset that it was written in Italy, but I wonder if someone coming across it by accident would instantly pick up on its origins? Indeed, there are elements to this book that strike you as particularly unique. For one thing, children's books published in America may mention that van Gogh shot himself and died of the wound soon thereafter, but you don't usually get to sit in on the scene. Then there is the role of the wind. Throughout this book the wind speaks to Vincent. It advises him, warns him, berates him, and taunts him. After a while, it seems clear that from a very young age Vincent has heard this wind, and though the book never goes so far as to say it, it could easily be a manifestation of his own madness. Lossani is purposefully vague on that point, which serves the story well. She shows moments when van Gogh seemed particularly dangerous (awaking Gauguin by standing over him, staring, holding a razor) or crazy (cutting off his own ear) but while she's willing to extrapolate his thoughts as they pertain to the big moments in his life (culled from his letters to Theo, which are still in existence) she does not speculate about his problems. That he had them is evident. What their cause was is elusive.
One pet peeve I've always harbored when it comes to biographies of great painters is that often you'll run across an illustrator who seems almost afraid to include any of that artist's actual paintings into the images. For this reason the paint and mixed-media style of this book fits it particularly well. Octavia Monaco suffers no such intimidation from the great master, and indeed her personal style fits the subject matter perfectly. She even allows herself a little fun here and there. Look on the cover of the book and you will find an image of van Gogh painting The Yellow House, the final image of which will appear later in the book. Monaco also works elements of famous van Gogh paintings into the story, even if the original images never appear. You won't see the official Vincent van Gogh sunflower paintings here, but you will see sunflowers cropping up all over the story in the background. Look! There's even one on the cover!
Is it nonfiction? I think so. The facts are there, albeit it buried amongst the story. When you first open the book you see a listing of Vincent's paintings in the order they appear on one page, and a couple facts about Vincent (where he was born, what year, etc.) on the other. You won't find any timelines in this book, though. No Bibliography. No Afterword. And if you were to turn this book into a play (stranger fish have been fried) you really would only need four actors or so. One to play Vincent, one to play Theo, one to play the wind, and one to play supporting roles like Gauguin or the salesman Pere Tanguy. Lossani limits her characters as needed, allowing the heart of the book to center on Vincent and Theo. This is their tale. What it says is true, even if we're unclear on how much. Making the wind a character is a bit of artistic license, but it serves a purpose. As a children's librarian I've a lot of people seeking out van Gogh biographies for kids. This isn't the usual fare, which is precisely why I like it. It may not fulfill all the requirements of a homework assignment, but for a story that delves deeply into the very brain of its subject without going too far, there are few titles to compete. A beautiful, odd book.
For ages 7-10.
While the author of this book doesn't apply the life lessons that are to be learned, this book for older children could be a helpful avenue for parents to bring up a discussion of deeper life issues and concerns. I should note, Van Gogh killed himself, may have had mental problems, and the book describes these parts of Van Gogh's story as well as one of his sinful romps. I wouldn't recommend this book for young readers, or for indiscriminate use by older readers.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Eerdman Books for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.