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Review of Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Radiant Childstar2 Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
by Javaka Steptoe; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
10/16    978-0-316-21388-2    $17.99

Picture books about artists are tricky. Should the illustrator mimic the subject’s style, or instead attempt to capture his or her essence? Steptoe does a little of both in this introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most visionary — and misunderstood — artists of his generation. Born in 1960 and raised in a loving, trilingual home in Brooklyn, Basquiat was encouraged by his parents (of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent) to follow his talent from an early age. The art world first took note of Basquiat’s graffiti art in the late 1970s. Later, his mixed-media paintings on unusual surfaces (such as windows and refrigerators) earned him a large following and several art shows, but during his short life he was often discouraged by racism, particularly when people labeled his style “primitive.” Steptoe focuses on the artist’s childhood, including a long recuperation after a car accident, and his mother’s mental illness and its influence on his art. Because Steptoe’s own style, with its vivid palette and use of found objects, is similar to Basquiat’s, he provides a close impression of the painter’s work, including many of the artist’s motifs. While Steptoe’s compositions are more representational than Basquiat’s and easier to “read,” they radiate a similar sense of energy and immediacy. For many personal reasons described in his heartfelt author’s note, Javaka Steptoe is the perfect person to create this book: a tour de force that will introduce an important artist to a new generation. Appended notes provide more information about Basquiat’s life and art; there is also a brief bibliography.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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Comments

  1. Yes a tour de force indeed to these eyes as well. Received my copy last week and have been using it to great appreciation with lower grade classes, while simultaneously marveling at the spectacular art.

    I’d place it among the 3 or 4 favorite picture books of 2016. Outstanding capsule assessment!

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