Get ready to learn more about two incredibly inventive and beautiful picture books! Thanks to the very kind folks at Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada, I will be talking about: Outside Art by Madeline Kloepper, and Anonymouse by Vikki VanSickle and Anna Pirolli. Happy reading- and happy discoveries- to you!
If you were to ask a handful of people what they think art is, you might just get a different answer and perspective from each person asked. Now imagine, if you will, what animals might consider art- and the process of art- to be. In the outstanding and wry Outside Art, written and illustrated by Canadian artist Madeline Kloepper (The Not-So Great Outdoors), readers are beckoned to the vantage point of a troupe of animals, led by Pine Marten, as they ponder, consider, and weigh in on what a “Human Artist” is working on. Pine Marten, who “love[s] watching Human in its log nest in the woods”, discovers that Human has a new activity they are working on: “putting colors on a board using a furry stick”. Hm. Pine Marten is skeptical, puzzled even. As nearby Chickadee sings that “‘The Artist’…is very busy ‘Making Art’”, Pine Marten stops in her tracks: “Wait…what is Art?”. A chorus of opinionated voices from the forest add their contributions and two cents to the art discussion- everyone from a fatalistic Grouse, to a worried Hare, to a critical and hungry Coyote. Pine Marten, however, does not appear to agree with anyone’s take on what art is or why Human might be making art, and a surprise explanation coming from inside the “log nest” only confuses things further. Is “Making Art” for the purposes of fun, or for warning others about danger, for finding a mate? Is it possible for the animals to come to a consensus about art? An exceptional reading experience that culminates in a fabulous and, dare I say, artistic ending, Outside Art is marvellously written and illustrated. For readers who love picture books along the lines of David Wiesner’s Art & Max, or playful books by authors/illustrators such as Esmé Shapiro, Jean Jullien, Lizi Boyd, Olivier Tallec, or Barney Saltzberg might especially love Outside Art. Note: If you are able to, be sure to check under the dust jacket for a beautiful surprise. I also ended up going on a bit of a detour after reading Outside Art to explore a little bit more about the coined term outsider art…
Written by Vikki VanSickle (Teddy Bear of the Year illustrated by Sydney Hanson), and illustrated by Anna Pirolli (I Hate My Cats (A Love Story) written by Davide Cali), Anonymouse is a gorgeously inventive and rousing story. When “a tired city rat [makes] her way home” one day, she discovers it “transformed”. A trail of hot pink, like a red carpet, leads to city rat’s home in the wall, itself painted like a glowing, curtained entrance. Over in another part of the city, “a colony of bats” are getting ready for “a good day’s sleep”when they notice an “unusual” (and funny) wink to an underdressed Batman. The bats notice that “no explanation” has been left by the artwork, “only a name”: Anonymouse. After the discoveries by city rat and the bats, animals start to spot the work of Anonymouse “everywhere”: on building roofs, close to the ground, even in parks! While some of Anonymouse’s art is playful and fun, some of the art is “serious…[making] the animals of the city think”. When the initial buzz and discoveries of Anonymouse’s art start to wane, however, it seems that the very existence of Anonymouse and the experience of their art has forever transformed the animals and their city. Vikki VanSickle’s storytelling is wonderful here, making Anonymouse simultaneously quick-witted and incisive. The story is matched to perfection with fantastic illustrations by Anna Pirolli- made even more impactful thanks to the carefully selective colour palette. Likely to stir discussion about street art, anonymity, creators, and who art can and should be for, Anonymouse is also wonderfully energetic and may stir artists (of any age!) into action and/or new perspectives. If read and shared in a group or classroom setting (perhaps upper elementary and on?), it might make for some fascinating and fun research to pair Anonymouse with a dive into the work of Banksy and/or other street artists! If you are interested in even more art exploration, you can pair Anonymouse with Madeline Kloepper’s Outside Art, any of the creators suggested in the review above, or other similarly themed picture books! Extras: Be sure to check out Vikki VanSickle’s website for The Anonymouse Challenge– suggested (Covid-19 safe) activities to go along with Anonymouse!
I received copies of these titles courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.