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Mousterpiece: A mouse-sized guide to modern art

mousterpieceThere’s just something about a mouse with a paintbrush, isn’t there?

Janson, named after art historian H.W. Janson, lives in the museum and is delighted by the art she finds in the modern wing. Inspired, she creates her own spinoffs of the classics and eventually creates enough art to have her own showing. In the end, she creates original work of her own, employing her own unique style and truly becomes an artist.

Will the Caldecott committee take a look at Janson’s story and her gallery? I think they will.

Here’s why:

1. It’s a picture book. Essentially a visual experience. The illustrations extend the text and are lovely to look at. Janson, like many youngsters, is amazed when she sees art for the first time. Her little corner (drawn on most pages) of the world is opened up by the great works she stumbles upon. Zalben uses white space, line and color with great success, incorporating a mouse shape in nearly every creation, from Rousseau to Warhol. It’s a treat to turn the page and see what will inspire her next. When the gallery is closed for renovation, the white space goes gray/blue, mirroring both her mood and her chapeau.

2. I love the way Zalben makes references to the originals in humorous and subtle ways. For instance, Janson is framed, comic style, in the Lichtenstein manner.

4. The backmatter. Brilliant backmatter allows Zalben to mention each artist  and extend the learning in a gentle and easy way. I am using that list to create a picture gallery of the originals to introduce the book to my students.

It’s light and breezy and fun–three adjectives not often honored by the Caldecott. Somehow the word “distinguished” cancels out these adjectives.

But, a girl  (or a mouse) can dream.


Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.

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