“Transformation of any kind always exacts a holy tussle. The newborn butterfly struggles to open its wings so it can conjure up the strength to fly. So, too, with artists,
inventors, mystics, and entrepreneurs.” ~ Tama Kieves
After writing the last blog post, “Am I an Artist?” I looked for picture books that explore different obstacles one might find on the creative path. Different things can make it a challenge to grow as an artist – lack of self-confidence, poverty, bullying, limited resources, and misguided beliefs about the value of the arts in children’s lives. The following books introduce us to some artists, dancers and musicians – children who are faced with various obstacles, but who get the help they need to believe in their abilities and to follow their creative dreams.
Isadora, Rachel. Ben’s Trumpet. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1979
Rachel Isadora’s beautifully illustrated book is about a boy who dreams of playing the trumpet but lacks the means to do it. He plays an imaginary instrument out on his front steps each day, eventually capturing the attention and approval of the trumpeter from the Zig Zag Jazz Club. When neighbourhood boys make fun of him, the boy is faced with the understanding that his dream is one that will not be realized. It is through the help of the jazz musician that he has an opportunity to discover that dreams can come true. This book will speak to caring adults and educators who are in a unique position to help children flourish through arts education.
DePaola, Tomie. Oliver Button is a Sissy. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979
This book addresses with sensitivity how it feels to be made fun of for being creative. Oliver Button is a boy who prefers dancing to participating in sports activities. He is constantly teased by his peers at school, and eventually they write ‘Oliver Button is a sissy’ on the wall. Still, he continues with his dance lessons, practises each day, and soon participates in a local talent show. Though he does not win a prize, he discovers that he has won something more important – the respect of his classmates. The story describes the effort and risks involved in following one’s creative path, and the inner reserve it takes to believe in yourself regardless of what others think.
Rylant, Cynthia. All I See. New York: Orchard Books, 1988
This poignant story is about how a shy child’s desire to paint is awakened one summer as he watches an artist paint blue whales by a lake. In time, the two develop a friendship, and the artist teaches the boy the skills he needs to use the canvas, paints and brushes, and to understand things like shadows, light and line. The artist steps aside while the boy practises and gains confidence, until they can work side by side, each creating his own unique painting. This book is a lovely reminder that in addition to art materials and lessons, children need their own space and time in order to feel their creativity unfold, and to see their own ideas take flight.
DePaola, Tomie. The Art Lesson. New York: Putnam, 1989
In this story, a little boy who wants to be an artist when he grows up discovers the difference between drawing at home and at school. At home he draws constantly, using sixty-four crayons in amazing colours, and he is told that real artists never copy anyone
else’s pictures. At school, access to art lessons and quality drawing materials is limited, and children are taught that copying the teacher and making identical pictures is the way to learn to draw. Though the boy and the art teacher find a way to compromise (i.e., after he follows the rules and can draw what he wants), the story paints a sad picture of how “the rules” can stifle the creativity of both children and their teachers. This book provides an interesting contrast with Rylant’s “All I See” and speaks to the challenges of integrating the arts into the school curriculum in meaningful ways.
Reynolds, Peter. The Dot. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2003
At the end of art class, Vashti is frustrated because she was unable to draw a picture. When her teacher says, “Make a mark and see where it takes you” she draws a dot on the paper, then signs it. It is when her teacher frames the signed dot that Vashti realizes she is capable of much more, and begins to experiment with paints, creating dots of different colours and sizes. Soon she displays her collection of dots at her school’s art exhibition. When a little boy admires her work and says he could never draw like that, she understands how he feels and is able to give him the gift she received from her art teacher – the ability to see herself as an artist, and to make her mark.
“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” ~ Joshua J. Marine