Look (the Alvin Ho series) blends mystical realism and biography to create a magical portrait of one of ancient China’s famous artists, Wu Daozi. As a boy during the T’ang Dynasty in the seventh century, Daozi is unable to conform in calligraphy class. Instead, “His straight lines splintered into trees. His hooks caught fish. His dots burst into eyes.” Later known for his dynamic murals, Daozi paints subjects so realistically they seem to come alive (“Daozi’s birds fluttered away. His horses galloped into the mountains”). The young artist’s cherubic face with big, black eyes and plump, rosy cheeks will pull readers in at the first page; the brisk narrative and vibrant spreads will keep them reading. So’s (Water Sings Blue) breezy ink-and-watercolor illustrations evoke Daozi’s flowing style. In some scenes, her naïve paintings showcase detailed patterns and myriad colors, like the spread of a mural unveiling featuring vivid banners, buildings, musicians, and dancers. Other spreads of Daozi practicing his craft alone employ a more limited color palette. A fine biographical tribute to the enchanting power of art. Ages 4–8. (June)
Starred Review, "The richly colored artwork is stunning in both its scope and particulars Booklist, May 15, 2013: ...and the words are equally well chosen. This combination of talents happily never forgets its audience in an offering as child appealing and whimsical as it is handsome. "
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2013: “A cheerful introduction not only to Wu Daozi, but to the power of inspiration.” Starred Review, School Library Journal, May 1, 2013: “Inviting and appealing, this title serves as a great addition to a unit on ancient China or Chinese Art.”
Starred Review, "A fine biographical tribute to the enchanting power of art." Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2013:
Look and So have created an imagined biography of legendary Chinese painter Wu Daozi (689-759). A young Wu Daozi desires to learn calligraphy, but his strokes created worms, grass, trees, and fish hooks. "Each day something new and surprising dripped out of Daozi's brush." Soon drawing on paper wasn't enough and he began to draw on walls everywhere, painting so quickly "his sleeves looked like wings spread in flight." As years passed, more and more people marveled at his so-called magical work, with waterfalls spilling from imagined mountainside and dragons whose scales moved in flight. One day the emperor himself came to see and invited Daozi to paint on a palace wall. The masterpiece took years to create and Daozi was an old man when it was unveiled. His painting was as brilliant "as fresh-fallen snow;" the crowd grew silent as the emperor bowed. Supposedly Daozi, "drenched in the moon's silver tears," added an archway to the painting and disappeared. In her author's note, Look explains Wu Daozi introduced the concept of showing movement in figures and clothing. Sadly, none of his frescoes survived. Meilo So uses watercolor, ink, gouache, and colored pencil to illustrate this soaring story. At times her brush strokes imitate calligraphy; other drawings include fine line. Some are in black and white, while others blaze with color and, of course, movement. Look's lyrical text weaves together the facts (as known) about Daozi with the legends of his paintings coming to life and disappearing, while So captures not only his glorious work but also the people's reactions to its wonders. This would be useful in any art or Chinese history curriculum; it also could be used as an example of constructing meaning from research and notes. What an inspiring tale of imagination! Reviewer: Peg Glisson
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
K-Gr 3—Young Wu Daozi tries to please his calligraphy teacher, but his brush drips out squiggles and twists and dots, his lines turn into trees, his hooks catch fish, and "his dots burst into eyes, then pigs, and monkeys." Wu Daozi paints on walls in temples and teahouses, and even the great wall surrounding the city. His work becomes known and admired throughout China. One day he paints a butterfly so beautiful and delicate that it appears to be real. When the wind blows, the wing moves, just a little, and the butterfly suddenly flits off. Soon everything he creates either flutters, gallops, or rolls away. No one believes that his paintings come to life, except the children. Then one day, the emperor asks Daozi if he would create a masterpiece on a wall of the palace. Stunning ink, watercolor, and pencil artwork brings to life ancient China and the beautiful children who remained faithful to Daozi. Highly detailed and vibrantly colored, the illustrations render Daozi's paintings with brilliance. Children will appreciate the imaginative aspect of the text as well as the inspiring story of a boy who follows his dreams. Inviting and appealing, this title serves as a great addition to a unit on ancient China or Chinese Art.—Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH
The life of the classical Chinese painter Wu Daozi is imagined as a magical artistic adventure. Look's text is brief and impressionistic, conveying with quick brushstrokes the mythical genius of the artist and his own wonder at the miraculous work of his brush. She begins with Wu Daozi as a boy studying calligraphy but discovering that his brush has other plans: "Each day something new and surprising dripped out of Daozi's brush," as lively lines turn into trees, a fish, a horse. So's friendly ink-and-watercolor paintings are a mix of graceful lines and careful detail, conveying a world in motion. The black and white of Wu Daozi's classical-style paintings as she depicts them come alive in bright colors: A butterfly, a camel, a flying dragon fill with color and flap or step off the wall as Wu Daozi finishes painting them. A seated Buddha smiles in glorious colors as Daozi adds a last touch of his brush. Brush strokes emphasize and echo the liveliness of Wu Daozi's work in the flying sleeves of his robe and a swirling shock of his black hair. An author's note gives Wu Daozi's dates and explains his importance to Chinese art, including the fact that none of his 300 frescoes have survived; a note about the legend that Wu Daozi possibly cheated death by painting himself into paradise follows the last enchanting illustration. A cheerful introduction not only to Wu Daozi, but to the power of inspiration.
(Picture book. 4-9)