Review of Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsui

Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsui Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsui
by Alison Goldberg; illus. by Elizabeth Zunon
Primary, Intermediate    Lee & Low    40 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-62014-966-9    $20.95

This picture-book biography is a fascinating introduction to Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and his innovative artistic process. Early pages present Anatsui’s childhood love of artmaking in the British colony of the Gold Coast. When he was a teenager, in 1957, his country achieved independence as the nation of Ghana, and Goldberg stirringly writes, “With this new freedom, he felt a shift.” Anatsui’s own words follow: “We could decide to do things on our own terms.” Words and pictures guide readers to see how liberation on this national scale translated into Anatsui’s artistic quest to freely express himself by experimenting with diverse media and developing new techniques. Zunon’s (I Am Farmer, rev. 1/19; Grandpa Cacao, rev. 5/19) use of paint and cut-paper collage is particularly well suited to depicting Anatsui’s life and artistry; it echoes his own evolving process of using found materials and assembling them in his artwork. Throughout, the illustrations’ style is largely realistic, and shifts in visual perspective invite the reader to home in on pivotal moments. For example, when Anatsui finds a discarded bag of bottle tops at the side of the road, Zunon spotlights him holding one. The next spread eschews background detail to show Anatsui’s hands manipulating the bottle tops as he develops a technique for creating the massive, fabric-like sculptures that brought him international acclaim. Back matter provides additional context and sources while inviting readers to get their own hands involved in creating art.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Megan Dowd Lambert
Megan Dowd Lambert

Megan Dowd Lambert is an instructor at Simmons University’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. For nearly ten years she also worked in the education department of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

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