Monday, March 22, 2010

A Picture Book about Jacob Lawrence

Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence

Written by: John Duggleby
Paintings by: Jacob Lawrence
Recommended Ages: 9-12

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday! Last week I wrote a post about two Diego Rivera books, and today I'm reviewing a Jacob Lawrence book. Personally, I think picture book biographies about artists serve as wonderful introductions to kids about artists, the art they create and the world they live in.

Story Painter: The Story of Jacob Lawrence
is a fairly comprehensive biography of Jacob Lawrence. The book begins by describing the setting that Lawrence was born into in 1917. His parents, like many other African-Americans, left the South to move to the North where they felt there was more opportunity. Unfortunately work was scarce, and for years his family shuffled between Atlantic City, Easton, and Philadelphia in search of employment. Finally when he was 13, they settled in Harlem--a place that in young Jake's mind was "the heart of the African-American world." And while he struggled in school, it was in an after-school program called the Utopia Children's House that young Jake began to emerge as an artist.

Lawrence spent his teen years working on his technique at the Utopia Children's House under the guidance of Charles Alston, who early on recognized the young man's talent. He also regularly attended lectures at the local YMCA where he began to learn about the rich and troubled history of African-Americans, a theme that continually emerged in Lawrence's paintings throughout his long life.

In Story Painter, Duggleby writes about Lawrence's life from his time in Harlem as a teenager through his participation in President Jimmy Carter's inauguration. There are 25 full-color reproductions from his Migration series, Touissant L'Overture, Harriet and the Promised Land and others. Lawrence was known for being a storyteller, and this is evident in all of his paintings. Whether he was telling the story of the Underground Railroad (Harriet and the Promised Land series) or the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North (Migration of the Negro series), Lawrence painted stories that would appeal to everyone. There are also accompanying photographs and quotes from contemporaries like Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King that help frame the story. In Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence, the flowing, easy-to-read text and bold, vibrant paintings create a natural partnership that give us a glimpse into the life of an important 20th century artist.

BookNosher Activity: The Whitney Museum has a lesson plan on the art and life of Jacob Lawrence for grades 4-6. "Students will understand cultural perspectives in art through study of and understanding of the work of Jacob Lawrence. Based on that understanding, students will create artwork by developing ideas in a sketchbook, and use those ideas to create a series of drawings which tell the story of a special event in their lives." For more information, please visit their website.

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