The Sign Painter

Overview

Early one morning a boy comes into town looking for work. He meets a sign painter who takes him on as a helper, and they are commissioned to paint a series of billboards in the desert. Each billboard has only one word, Arrowstar. They do not know its meaning. As they are about to paint the last sign, the boy looks up and sees in the distance a magnificent structure. Is it real? Together, they go to find out.

Here Allen Say tells a haunting story of dreams and choices for ...

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Overview

Early one morning a boy comes into town looking for work. He meets a sign painter who takes him on as a helper, and they are commissioned to paint a series of billboards in the desert. Each billboard has only one word, Arrowstar. They do not know its meaning. As they are about to paint the last sign, the boy looks up and sees in the distance a magnificent structure. Is it real? Together, they go to find out.

Here Allen Say tells a haunting story of dreams and choices for readers of all ages. It is a Common Core State Standards Text Exemplar (Grades 2-3, Read-Aloud Story).

An assignment to paint a large billboard in the desert changes the life of an aspiring artist.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like a 1930s cinematographer, Say (Grandfather's Journey), in perhaps his best work to date, pays tribute to a bygone era with a brief slice-of-life story about a boy's encounter with a sign painter. Neither the boy nor the sign painter has a name; what carries their connection and the story is their mutual love of painting. In the opening scene, Say depicts an Asian-American boy standing in front of an urban backdrop, right out of Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning: the red and green strip of storefronts and barber pole provide an ideal backdrop for the young painter's uniform of black trousers and white button-down shirt. From here, Say's full-page panel paintings almost tell the story by themselves. As the boy helps the sign painter work on a billboard, they receive a commission to paint a dozen more, all featuring a woman's face. Thus begins a journey across barren landscapes, through dust storms and into the foothills of a spectacular mountain range. The blonde woman on the billboards could have stepped out of a Hopper painting; one day, in a fleeting moment, she drives past the two painters--like Barbie in her pink Cadillac, in stark contrast to the desert scene. The purpose of the painters' enigmatic mission comes together like pieces of a puzzle through snippets of an overheard conversation. And when the job is finished, the boy, now returned to the city, stands in front of the corner bar from Hopper's Nighthawks, empty of customers. One can't help feeling wistful while gazing at this final scene. Say subtly and ingeniously blends a feeling of nostalgia with a hard-hitting immediacy. Even though young readers will not grasp its message as fully as adult readers, the images and the boy's passion as an artist will remain with them. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Who is the sign painter of the title¾the Asiatic boy who requests a job or the man who hires him to help paint a series of twelve large billboards? This is only part of the strange mystery in this tale. The two head out into the desert to paint the boards showing only a woman and a word--Arrowstar. But after the last billboard is destroyed by a windstorm and the pair explores a strange roller coaster structure and buildings, they return to town. The young assistant decides to move on. Readers must make their own story from this, including exactly what the word means. Say's naturalistic full-page paintings emphasize the barren beauty of the Southwestern landscape and the attractive allure of the contrasting structures. There is a nod toward Magritte in the empty-framed billboard and a final night scene recalling Hopper. They add to the support of the boy's ambition to be more than a sign painter. 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company/Walter Lorraine Books,
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Puzzling is perhaps the best way to describe this latest offering from one of our most talented illustrators. The quirky, quasi-surreal tale begins with a young Asian-American man disembarking from a bus in a strange town. It's early in the morning and he makes his way to a sign shop where he asks for employment. When he tells the owner that he can paint, he's put to work. The two men soon receive a mysterious commission to paint a dozen billboards along a lonesome road running through the desert. The subject of the billboards is a blonde woman featured alongside the words "ArrowStar." After weathering a fierce dust storm, the painters are nearly run over by the real-life ArrowStar model's car and then spy in the distance the looming metal towers of ArrowStar-a rollercoaster. Eavesdropping reveals that it was constructed in anticipation of a highway being built. Its owner is apparently still clinging to his dreams of amusement-park glory despite unfavorable odds and the loss of his ArrowStar girl. The painters slip away unnoticed, pondering the power of dreams. The young man leaves for parts unknown the next day. Very painterly illustrations conjure up an earlier decade, perhaps the 1950s, and different scenes pay homage to Edward Hopper's cityscapes and Georgia O'Keeffe's Southwest landscapes. While the story's stark visuals match the almost existential tone of the text, they may not engage young readers. Similarly, the narrative is more likely to baffle children than drive home its message about honoring one's dreams, artistic or monolithic.-Rosalyn Pierini, San Luis Obispo City-County Library, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Newsweek
Adults will savor Allen Say's The Sign Painter from the get-go, as his young hero is seen standing in front of the store-fronts of Edward Hopper's "Early Sunday Morning." Kids may need the whole first paragraph, as taut as the opening of a Hemingway story. Too arty? No way.
Kirkus Reviews
Say scatters references to other artists through a typically elliptical tale of an itinerant painter and a man with a lonely, soaring vision. No sooner does the young wanderer step off a bus in a small town to take a job with a commercial artist than a new commission comes along: to paint a dozen huge desert billboards with a woman's face and the single word "ArrowStar." He finds out what it all means when the work is nearly done; the billboards lead to an immense roller-coaster, built by an enterprising dreamer in the middle of nowhere, near the route of a future highway. However, with the news that the road might not come, the woman to whom the billboards are also a tribute drives off, leaving the man alone with his grand construction. In Say's art, every figure is a lonely one, seen at a remove, placed into wide, O'Keeffe-like landscapes or stepping into one Edward Hopper painting or another Norman Rockwell—like design. As with much of Say's work, this spare episode will appeal most to readers of an inward, analytical bent who enjoy winkling out hidden meanings and subtle allusions. (Picture book. 10+)
From the Publisher
"Like a cinematographer, Say, in perhaps his best work to date, pays tribute to a bygone era with a brief slice-of-life story about a boy’s encounter with a sing painter. . . . . Say subtly and ingeniously blends a feeling of nostalgia with a hard-hitting immediacy. . . . The images and the boy’s passion as an artist will remain with [readers]." —Publishers Weekly, starred review Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Studying say’s technique could inspire any aspiring painter." —Horn Book (9-10/00) Horn Book

"In a tribute to many modern artists, includijng Hopper, Warhol, and Magritte, Say shows and tells how their pictures make you feel and how the surreal is part of a young man's search for himself." —Booklist (19/01/00 Booklist, ALA

Kirkus Reviews (9/15/00) Kirkus Reviews

School Library Journal (9/00) School Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395979747
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 801,837
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 250L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1937. He dreamed of becoming a cartoonist from the age of six, and, at age twelve, apprenticed himself to his favorite cartoonist, Noro Shinpei. For the next four years, Say learned to draw and paint under the direction of Noro, who has remained Say's mentor. Say illustrated his first children's book—published in 1972—in a photo studio between shooting assignments. For years, Say continued writing and illustrating children's books on a part-time basis. But in 1987, while illustrating THE BOY OF THE THREE-YEAR NAP (Caldecott Honor Medal), he recaptured the joy he had known as a boy working in his master's studio. It was then that Say decided to make a full commitment to doing what he loves best: writing and illustrating children's books. Since then, he has written and illustrated many books, including TREE OF CRANES and GRANDFATHER'S JOURNEY, winner of the 1994 Caldecott Medal. He is a full-time writer and illustrator living in Portland, Oregon.

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