Twenty Heartbeats

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A SIMPLE STORY LAYERED WITH MEANING; stunning layered artwork by an acknowledged master.

A wealthy Chinese man dreamt of a painting of his favorite horse. He sought out a man named Homan, known as a great painter of horses and commissioned the portrait. Then he waited…and waited…and waited. As the years passed, his hair grew gray, and he grew furious. What was taking so long? Dennis Haseley’s simple story about the nature of art and the value ...

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Overview

A SIMPLE STORY LAYERED WITH MEANING; stunning layered artwork by an acknowledged master.

A wealthy Chinese man dreamt of a painting of his favorite horse. He sought out a man named Homan, known as a great painter of horses and commissioned the portrait. Then he waited…and waited…and waited. As the years passed, his hair grew gray, and he grew furious. What was taking so long? Dennis Haseley’s simple story about the nature of art and the value of time is subtly amplified in stunning layered collages by Caldecott medalist Ed-Young.

Twenty Heartbeats is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews

A wealthy man engages a great painter to create an image of the faithful horse that runs to him in 20 heartbeats. He waits for word that his painting is ready. Years slip by, and both man and horse grow old. Finally, livid, the man returns to demand the picture he commissioned so very long ago. And in 20 heartbeats, the artist puts brush to paper to produce a piece of genius. But “[t]he man did not look at the painting. All he could see were the years that had gone by.” There are many ways to read this story: as a treatise on the nature of art and the value of product versus process; as an allegory about faith and another Great Painter; as a reminder to look beyond the obvious. These messages may elude younger readers, but no one will miss the point of Young’s arresting limited-color collage work, in which dreams are veiled in a layered rice-paper mist, and texture, curve and line, along with the compelling and considered placement of pigment, guide the eye along the narrative path.

Booklist

In historical China, a wealthy man desires a painting of his favorite horse. He takes his steed to Homan, a renowned painter, and pays a bag of gold in advance for the portrait. Homan spends a few moments touching the horse, circling him; then he retires to paint. After waiting many years and watching his horse grow old, the client is infuriated by the artist’s progress and demands his picture. Homan paints the horse in a few swift, sure strokes (“It took him twenty heartbeats”). Enraged by how quickly the portrait is executed, the buyer turns to leave when he sees the thousands of paintings Homan has made in preparation for his masterpiece. Young creates collages of cut papers as well as drawn and painted elements to illustrate the story. From shadowy figures in the rich man’s dream to the artist's gesture, reaching out to the horse to the bold forms underscoring the characters’ emotions at the story’s climax, the handsome artwork evokes every nuance of this memorable story which celebrates dedication to one’s art. — Carolyn Phelan

Starred Review - Publishers Weekly

Set in the indeterminate Far East of long ago so often favored by Caldecott Medalist Young, this story about a rich man and an artist lends itself to various levels of interpretation. Children may see the book as a lesson about how practice makes perfect; adults may see it as a confrontation between commerce and art. The rich man pays an artist to paint a picture of his beloved horse; after years of waiting, he is furious when the artist paints the picture in little more than “twenty heartbeats.” When he sees the thousands of drawings of his horse in the artist's studio, however, he understands why the artist has struggled so long. Like a folktale, Haseley's (A Story for Bear) text unfolds economically, but it is Young's virtuoso illustrations that breathe life into the book—the combination of elegant brushstrokes and collage designs are masterly. At its best, the story... attempts to explain just how an artist transforms his vision into art; through Young's artwork, readers, like the rich man, will understand how remarkable that vision can be. Ages 5–9. (May)

Mary Quattlebaum
Though most young children will see this as a story about taking a long time to do something, older readers will grasp the nuances in this lyrical fable by Dennis Haseley. An artist must give the work his or her best effort till what emerges seems to fix a thing beautifully in time even as the thing itself continues to age. From the sweep of changing landscape to the dark, intelligent eye of the horse, the collage art by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young bears testimony to this idea.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Set in the indeterminate Far East of long ago so often favored by Caldecott Medalist Young, this story about a rich man and an artist lends itself to various levels of interpretation. Children may see the book as a lesson about how practice makes perfect; adults may see it as a confrontation between commerce and art. The rich man pays an artist to paint a picture of his beloved horse; after years of waiting, he is furious when the artist paints the picture in little more than "twenty heartbeats." When he sees the thousands of drawings of his horse in the artist's studio, however, he understands why the artist has struggled so long. Like a folktale, Haseley's (A Story for Bear) text unfolds economically, but it is Young's virtuoso illustrations that breathe life into the book-the combination of elegant brushstrokes and collage designs are masterly. At its best, the story, however imperfectly, attempts to explain just how an artist transforms his vision into art; through Young's artwork, readers, like the rich man, will understand how remarkable that vision can be. Ages 5-9. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Homan is a famous painter of horses. A wealthy man asks the artist to paint a picture of his favorite horse. Homan touches the horse and leaves, saying he will call when the portrait is ready. The man gazes out over his land awaiting the picture. Years go by. The man ages, as does the horse. Finally he can wait no longer. He goes to Homan's house, demanding the picture he paid for so long ago. In "twenty heartbeats," Homan brushes in a picture. The man is angry at what appears to be the act of dashing off the picture "like nothing." Then the man sees the thousands of paintings in Homan's studio that show as Homan was trying to capture what he finally had in his hand: a picture of "his horse rearing, so lifelike…that he whistled to it." Young's stunning collages are composed to evoke Oriental sensibilities. His figures are placed in very subtly textured spaces; sometimes we see the man only as a red dot in a dreary, misty landscape. Young uses ornate floral-patterned decorated papers as costumes, although Homan dresses in rather simple robes. One double-page display of the many preliminary sketches is striking, holding the eye for many minutes as the reader turns the book to view the overlapping pictures. This leads to the final page of the rearing horse. The simple text is based on an anecdote about "the image of the artist." Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 1-6- Twenty heartbeats is the time it takes for a favored horse to run to his wealthy master when he whistles. The beast is so beloved that the man commissions a portrait from an artist known for lifelike renderings. Gold is exchanged, but years go by, with the patron growing ever more impatient. Angry, he goes to Homan's house and demands his painting. He becomes further enraged when he sees the painter wielding his brushes on a blank piece of paper. It is not until the visitor storms deeper into the studio that he sees images scattered everywhere-years of attempts to get to the perfection that the owner finally unrolls in the form of a traditional Chinese painting. Based on a literary anecdote, the story, like its subject, contains only what is essential. Haseley's minimalist text leaves plenty of room for Young's marvelous collages to set the scene and develop the characters. Rice paper of varying hues functions at one point as a pale scrim, covering the horse when he appears in a vision, and later as a dark backdrop for an evening shrouded in mystery. Young's imposing, nearly horizontal figures at the climax create tension, whereas his softer, more impressionistic landscapes earlier on suggest suspended time. Readers who enjoy transcendent themes or the exploration of the thin veil between art and reality will also want to try Young's The Lost Horse (Harcourt, 1998), coauthored by Tracey Adams, and Margaret Leaf's Eyes of the Dragon (HarperCollins, 1987). Timeless wisdom to challenge today's kids.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
A wealthy man engages a great painter to create an image of the faithful horse that runs to him in 20 heartbeats. He waits for word that his painting is ready. Years slip by, and both man and horse grow old. Finally, livid, the man returns to demand the picture he commissioned so very long ago. And in 20 heartbeats, the artist puts brush to paper to produce a piece of genius. But "[t]he man did not look at the painting. All he could see were the years that had gone by." There are many ways to read this story: as a treatise on the nature of art and the value of product versus process; as an allegory about faith and another Great Painter; as a reminder to look beyond the obvious. These messages may elude younger readers, but no one will miss the point of Young's arresting limited-color collage work, in which dreams are veiled in a layered rice-paper mist, and texture, curve and line, along with the compelling and considered placement of pigment, guide the eye along the narrative path. (Picture book. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596432383
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 10.97 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Dennis Haseley has written many books for children, including The Invisible Moose, A Story for Bear, and Kite Flier. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Ed Young has illustrated more than eighty books for children, including the Caldecott winning Lon Po Po and two Caldecott Honor books: Seven Blind Mice and The Emperor and the Kite. Born in China, he now lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.

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