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Willy's Pictures Hardcover – October 6, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Glimpsed imagining himself as a painter in Willy the Dreamer, Browne's versatile chimp now takes up the palette in perhaps his most intriguing outing yet. Willy presents his versions of 16-plus familiar masterpieces, working his own imageDand a sophisticated, quirky humorDinto each. Refashioning Winslow Homer's rather somber The Herring Net as "The Fruitful Fishing Trip," for instance, Willy adds splashes of color by changing the fishermen's catch to bananas; alongside the boat floats a pig, its neck encircled with this fruit. Pieter Brueghel the Elder's The Tower of Babel here becomes a sandcastle, with an overlaid image of Willy cast as the subject from William Blake's Glad Day. Observant readers will pick up on several recurring motifs, as well as elements from additional paintings: the desolate streetscape in Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning is brightened by flowers in a window (a diminutive reproduction of Vincent van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers), his friend Millie appears in another window, and Willy walks his "dog" (Buster Nose the gorilla on all fours) past a barber-shop pole in the multicolored pattern of the chimp's signature vest. On the penultimate spread, Browne sheds his mask to take readers on "a tour of the pictures that inspired Willy." A minor caveat: some of the reproductions of the original paintings in a concluding gatefold index are too small for youngsters to fully appreciate the contrast between the masters' and Willy's works. Regardless, "Willy's" enlightening captions beneath the original masterworks and a complete list of where the paintings can be viewed make this one-volume minimuseum well worth a visit. Ages 4-up.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Grade 3 Up-Less a story than a gallery of the illustrator's imagination, this title features paintings by the familiar chimp featured in several of Browne's earlier picture books. Mounted on white sheets of paper that give the appearance of having just been torn from a sketchbook, each of Willy's creations harkens back to at least one famous painting and sometimes elements from more than one renowned artist, all integrated into a single frame. Simian characters frequently pose in the stances that humans occupied in the original masterpieces. Other humorous details and alterations add whimsy to many of the paintings. The text primarily functions as captions to each piece of artwork. At the back of the book, readers are invited to tour miniature versions of the works that inspired Willy, such as Buonarroti's The Creation of Adam, da Vinci's Mona Lisa, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, accompanied by the chimp's creative comments. Some of the shortcomings of the book include the randomness of the paintings chosen, the fact that the reduced originals are too small for children to appreciate in detail, and that the artistic references and humor really have more adult than child appeal. There are many more successful introductions to art history available.
Rosalyn Pierini, San Luis Obispo City-County Library, CA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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"Willy likes painting and looking at pictures. He knows that every picture tells a story."
Willy is a chimp and appears to have visited many of the world's great art museums, because he knows their contents very well. The book is a series of chimp-based paintings. One or more chimps are in each image, often simply replacing where a human model would have been placed. That creates the first level of humor.
At the second level of humor, each image is also based on a famous painting. For example, the chimp painting of The Kind Women is based on The Gleaners by Millet.
At the third level of humor, the painting is further transformed by changing the sequence a little. For example, The Kind Women has the chimp women actually painting in the foreground with brushes rather than picking up the loose grains.
At the fourth level of humor, the works are renamed and subtitled. For example, The Kind Women (instead of The Gleaners) has a subtitle "I had been getting a bit bored with painting all that grass." This is based on the idea of the women in the painting helping Willy finish the painting.
At the fifth level of humor, each work also has one or more fragments of other paintings juxtaposed onto the composition of the primary transformation. For example, Lots and Lots and Lots of Dots is inevitably based on Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte but also contains part of the cobblestone pavement in the center of Caillebotte's Paris, A Rainy Day. So, these are a little like jigsaw puzzles, fitting different works into the same image in unexpected and humorous ways.
At the end of the book are small images of the paintings that the chimp images are drawn from, so that you can match up the works, even if you don't already know them. This is a good excuse to look at some great art.
Here are my favorite images from the book:
The Birthday Suit: "Quick, cover yourself up!" The primary inspiration is The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
My Best Ever Sand Castle: "I had an odd feeling that the castle was trying to warn me of something." The primary source is The Tower of Babel by Peter Brueghel the Elder.
Lots and Lots and Lots of Dots (see above)
The Kind Women (see above)
Coming to Life: "I was just finishing the painting when I heard a small voice say, 'Give us a hand.'" The primary model for the painting is Creation of Adam by Buonarroti.
The Mysterious Smile: "Can you solve this mystery?" The main reference is to Mona Lisa by da Vinci.
The Fruitful Fishing Trip: "We hadn't caught anything all day and were on our way home when we cast our net for the last time." This painting is based on The Herring Net by Homer.
My only complaint about the book is that fitting in the secondary images did not always elevate the overall impression. In other words, the humor aimed unnecessarily too low at times.
I am in awe of Mr. Browne for conceiving of and well executing this work, though. It is a remarkable accomplishment, and one that I hope will find its way into many homes.
After you finish enjoying this book, you might want to do what my youngest child did. She took actual paintings and created her own studies of them, and we hung her studies next to the originals. Having done this at age 5, she definitely captured the key elements of composition, color, and emotion in a way that made these paintings hers forever. She was proud that we wanted to display her work as well. After doing that, you might want to ask your child if he or she wants to take a crack at creating her or his own chimp paintings. That would be a worthy challenge that would drive the lessons home much deeper. You could use the paintings at the end of the book as the models to draw from.
See the potential all around you, and integrate it into your own life!