First Painter

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A powerful, eerily beautiful book about self-expression-and who the "first" painter might have been.

The moon of the singing grass has come and gone three times, and still there is no rain. Mishoo's prehistoric clan is starving, her little sister's arms like twigs. Can a Dream Catcher bring them rain?
Mishoo's mother had been the clan's Dream Catcher. She spoke with spirits,...
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Overview

A powerful, eerily beautiful book about self-expression-and who the "first" painter might have been.

The moon of the singing grass has come and gone three times, and still there is no rain. Mishoo's prehistoric clan is starving, her little sister's arms like twigs. Can a Dream Catcher bring them rain?
Mishoo's mother had been the clan's Dream Catcher. She spoke with spirits, trying to catch a dream of rain. Now she is a spirit herself. She tells a sleeping Mishoo: "You are Dream Catcher. You must go to the cave of the she-tiger."
Mishoo dares to go-and there discovers rock that looks like dripping animal fat, rock like giant fangs from the saver-toothed tiger. Something stirs inside her. And as she picks up a charred stick from the fire and begins to draw the animal she sees buried in the stone, she wonders, "Am I catching spirits or being caught myself?"
This powerful and strikingly original picture book provides a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric world as it imagines who the first painter might have been.

Using cave paintings discovered in Europe as their guide, Lasky and Baviera capture all of the power, mystery, and simple elegance of those first works of art. (Family Life)

What moves people to make art? Lasky answers that question with a brilliantly imagined story of the daughter of a shaman 30,000 years ago. Mishoo and her clan have not seen rain in so long that the grass has dried up and the animals have moved on. Mishoo's now-dead mother was a dream catcher and visits Mishoo's dreams, urging her to the cave of the she-tiger. Mishoo is afraid, but her sister's thin arms spur her to take her mother's spirit bundle and go. She crawls into the hidden cave, lights a fire, and sees in the shadows and the rock— something. Mishoo takes up a stick and outlines on the rock what she sees in her mind: first a galloping horse, then a rhinoceros, a bison, the she-tiger herself. For three days she paints with the earth colors in her spirit bundle, and at last she places her paint-covered hand on the wall, marking her work. When she emerges from the cave, she finds that the rain has indeed come. Baviera's images are very powerful. He has used the natural pigments and bear fat available to that first painter as well as constructing Mishoo's clothing out of skins and fur and her tools from bone. The palette is rich in earth tones and firelight, and the figures have an iconic expressiveness deeply suited to the text. An author's note lists bibliography and research. This tile creates for children an accessible truth—that art has magic, that art holds immense human meaning, and that the artist makes things happen inside the human soul. (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)

Lasky lyrically and plausibly imagines what might have prompted the creativity of a young cave painter. When her mother, a Dream Catcher, dies while attempting to relieve their people of drought and famine, Mishoo, as the eldest daughter, inherits the position. In a narrative that evokes the rhythms of an ancient chant, Lasky paints the desperation of Mishoo's plight. A recurring dream with a nightly call—uttered by generations of Dream Catchers before her—urges the heroine to 'go to the cave of the she-tiger'. Baviera deftly navigates a palette of earth tones to visually connect Mishoo's dream of visions of her mother and female forebears with the paintings she draws in the she-tiger's cave. The design of the book and photographs of the art work together to make her animal subjects seem alive. Readers will come away from this tale believing in the unmistakable connection between creativity and survival, a message echoed in the artwork: as Mishoo emerges from the cave, the sky turns from dusty gray to ocean blue. (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

Author Biography: Kathryn Lasky is the author of many award-winning books, both fiction and nonfiction. Fascinated by what the first artistic impulses of our earliest ancestors might have been, and inspired by the beauty and power of cave art, she wrote First Painter, an imaginative reconstruction based on archaeological evidence. Ms. Lasky's many honors and awards include the Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Award for her contribution to children's nonfiction and the John Burroughs Award for outstanding nature books for children. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Rocco Baviera has illustrated several picture books, including A Boy Called Slow by Joseph Bruchac, which was an ALA Notable Book and won the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association Children's Book Award. In illustrating First Painter, he used organic materials that would have been used in prehistoric times-natural pigments, bear fat, animal skins, furs, bones, twigs, stone. He made the clothes Mishoo wears out of skins and fur; he made her tools, her spirit bundle that she uses to carry her pigments; he shaped her paint-mixing bowl out of bone.
While inspired by the cave paintings in Europe, he chose not to copy them for this book, but to create new paintings to decorate a cave that is uncovered here for the first time. Rocco Baviera lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Following the death of her mother, Mishoo the new shaman, must find a way to help her preshistoric tribe during a drought.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lasky (Sophie and Rose) lyrically and plausibly imagines what might have prompted the creativity of a young cave painter. When her mother, a Dream Catcher, dies while attempting to relieve their people of drought and famine, Mishoo, as the eldest daughter, inherits the position. In a narrative that evokes the rhythms of an ancient chant ("I have lived for ten moons of the Singing Grass, and now I am beginning to forget the rain--its sound, its shape, and how the water clouds gather like herds of wooly mammoths in the east"), Lasky paints the desperation of Mishoo's plight. A recurring dream with a nightly call--uttered by generations of Dream Catchers before her--urges the heroine to "go to the cave of the she-tiger." Baviera (A Boy Called Slow) deftly navigates a palette of earth tones to visually connect Mishoo's dream visions of her mother and female forebears with the paintings she draws in the she-tiger's cave. The design of the book and photographs of the art work together to make her animal subjects seem alive. Readers will come away from this tale believing in the unmistakable connection between creativity and survival, a message echoed in the artwork: as Mishoo emerges from the cave, the sky turns from dusty gray to ocean blue. Ages 7-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Lasky imagines who the first cave painter might have been in this original story set in prehistoric times. Mishoo has inherited the status of Dream Catcher when her mother dies, but she is powerless to have the dream that will save her people from starvation because there is no rain. She feels mysteriously called to a cave fissure, which she enters and with her medicine bag she begins to create paintings of running horses and animals she has seen. As she paints, she wonders if she is catching spirits or is being caught herself, but when she comes out of the cave, rain clouds have gathered and the first drops begin to fall. Baviera's artwork uses organic materials that might have been used by the first painters—bear fat and natural pigments. He creates unique collages from fur, twigs, stone, bones and other natural materials that reflect the dark but warmly lit interior of the cave and suggest, as if in fragmented images, the life of the prehistoric people outside the cave. Lasky's short afterword outlines what we know about cave paintings, and explains the significance of the multiple legs seen on horses in the Chauvet caves in France (and used by Mishoo here) as indicative of a painter's desire to depict movement artistically. All in all, a fascinating idea plausibly put forth in a dramatically illustrated story. 2000, Melanie Kroupa/DK Ink, $16.95. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Susan Hepler
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-After her mother's death, young Mishoo becomes her prehistoric tribe's Dream Catcher. The clan is suffering terribly from the lack of rain; the crops have failed, and the people are starving. The child dreams that she must go to the cave of the she-tiger. Although terrified, Mishoo is motivated by the sight of her young sister, who will perish if some relief is not found soon. She takes the spirit bundle she inherited from her mother and finds the cave, where she traces the fossils of animals with a charred stick from the fire. Accidentally, she spreads ocher on the drawing of a horse and it seems to come alive. She paints bison and rhinoceroses and even the she-tiger. When she leaves after three days, it is raining. The text is so beautifully written and Baviera's drawings so evocative that readers will be holding their breath by the end. Lasky provides details of the archaeological findings that provide the basis for this story. In addition, she has developed a rather extensive bibliography for those who would like to learn more about the history of cave painting. This is a very special book that could be read aloud with dramatic flourish or enjoyed by older children for its mysterious, almost spooky feel.-Barbara Buckley, Rockville Centre Public Library, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What moves people to make art? Lasky (Lucille's Snowsuit, see below) answers that question with a brilliantly imagined story of the daughter of a shaman 30,000 years ago. Mishoo and her clan have not seen rain in so long that the grass has dried up and the animals have moved on. Mishoo's now-dead mother was a dream catcher and visits Mishoo's dreams, urging her to the cave of the she-tiger. Mishoo is afraid, but her sister's thin arms spur her to take her mother's spirit bundle and go. She crawls into the hidden cave, lights a fire, and sees in the shadows and the rock—something. Mishoo takes up a stick and outlines on the rock what she sees in her mind: first a galloping horse, then a rhinoceros, a bison, the she-tiger herself. For three days she paints with the earth colors in her spirit bundle, and at last she places her paint-covered hand on the wall, marking her work. When she emerges from the cave, she finds that the rain has indeed come. Baviera's images are very powerful. He has used the natural pigments and bear fat available to that first painter as well as constructing Mishoo's clothing out of skins and fur and her tools from bone. The palette is rich in earth tones and firelight, and the figures have an iconic expressiveness deeply suited to the text. An author's note lists bibliography and research. This title creates for children an accessible truth—that art has a magic, that art holds immense human meaning, and that the artist makes things happen inside the human soul. (afterword, bibliography) (Picture book. 7-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780789425782
  • Publisher: DK Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/30/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 7 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: AD500L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.70 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.39 (d)

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