First-grader Emily lives to draw. When Ms. Fair announces that the school is having an art contest, Emily submits a picture of her dog, Thor, whom she has depicted with very large ears "Because Thor hears everything." The judge, whose sole qualifications are that she is the principal's mother and her cousin is married to an artist, inspects the paintings, and declares Emily's "rabbit" to be "exquisite." When she learns it is a dog, however, she declares that she hates dogs and pins the blue ribbon on Kelly's butterfly. Emily, devastated, determines she'll never paint again, and ends up in the nurse's office with a heart that hurts. But Kelly, in the nurse's office with Emily because she is dizzy, asks Emily to show her how to draw a dinosaur, and the two friends find their equilibrium once more as Emily begins to draw. Catalanotto's oversize watercolors capture the joy of a first-grader's art, the fussiness of the judge and the way that Emily wants to disappear (by making her figure transparent) when her work is rejected. Dedicated to "all the children who paint with their hearts," this is an excellent choice for those discussing the concepts of fairness, judging and being judged. 2001, Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, $16.00. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Cherri Jones
K-Gr 3-As with all inspired artists, Emily's paintings reflect her unique perceptions. The child paints her beloved teacher with golden wings and her dog with exceptionally large ears, "Because Thor hears everything." The story, however, really begins before the title page with a provocative classroom discussion of the upcoming art contest-and the process of singling out an entry as the best. When the judge dismisses Emily's picture of Thor (because she was once bitten by a dog) in favor of a butterfly painted by Emily's best friend (under her tutelage), the child's pain is palpable. Throughout the book, Catalanotto voices the concerns and reactions of children quite convincingly. Like his protagonist, he conveys a heightened reality in his watercolor, gouache, and acrylic spreads. His backgrounds resemble the richness of Rothko canvases (albeit with more light); this choice simultaneously focuses more attention on the children in the foreground and subtly supports the central theme regarding the qualities of "fine" art. Insets allow for sequential messages and multiple perspectives. Many of the illustrations superimpose images on silhouettes or transparent figures on visible backgrounds, pulling readers into the character's interior world. Whether viewed from afar or up close, this creative and heartfelt book is a masterpiece.-Wendy Lukehart, Harrisburg School District, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Catalanotto (Dad and Me, 1999, etc.) sets his stage almost like a little movie: there's a prologue, a progression, a denouement, and a coda, all in the standard picture book's 32 pages. The watercolor, gouache, and acrylic paintings shimmer in bold colors and strong shapes, echoing the text themes. It's a heavily didactic story with a straw villain, but it gets at an honest truth. Ms. Fair asks her class if they know what a contest is and what a judge is. The class bickers over what judges do ("puts bad people in jail," says one), and Ms. Fair explains that in the art contest, the judge will decide who the winner is. Emily loves to paint, and she does so inventively: she paints four mommies in her breakfast scene, because her mom is "very busy in the morning" and angel wings on her picture of Ms. Fair "because she's so nice." She enters her painting of her dog Thor in the contest, painted with big ears because "Thor hears everything" and helps her best friend Kelly with the colors on her butterfly. When the judge arrives, she mistakes Thor for a rabbit; when told it's a dog, she chooses Kelly's butterfly instead because she hates dogs. Emily vows never to paint again, and her misery-filled, random thoughts will resonate with any child whose work has been misunderstood. While the text is heavy-handed, Catalanotto's art brilliantly portrays not only the lively classroom, but also Emily's own art and the art of her classmates, what she's thinking, and how she resolves the situation for herself. (Picture book. 5-8)