[Nonfiction Wednesday] Visions of Race and Injustice Captured through Art and a Camera Lens in “Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews” and “Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America”

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

Widget Handcrafted by Iphigene for GatheringBooks.

I really wanted to save these two titles for our September-October reading theme when we explore The Untamed, The Mischievous, Artists and Rebels in Literature. However, that’s quite a long ways away; and since these two books have been nominated for the 2015 CYBILS Elementary/ Middle Grade Nonfiction Category – we might as well share the booklove now.

IMG_8286Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews

Written by: Kathleen Benson
Illustrated by: Benny Andrews
Published by: Clarion Books, 2015
Book borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Unlike other picturebook biographies illustrated by children’s book artists, this one makes use of the existing art made by Benny Andrews. The last page provides more information about each of the art and where and when they have been exhibited. I also recognized a few familiar images such as this one:

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I immediately recalled the picturebook on Langston Hughes’ poetry which I also featured some time ago – so that was kind of interesting:

While I did enjoy learning about Benny Andrews’ life, the first page confused me a bit as it references Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – making it appear as if it is setting the stage for an entirely different narrative. It would have worked better if it was placed at the end of the story, rather than in the beginning.

Regardless, I was deeply moved with how Benny used his art as a form of advocacy to fight for the rights of African American artists “who were often excluded by the art world.” He also shared his passion for art by teaching in community centres, colleges, then a prison “to teach art to the inmates. He believed that art was for everyone.”

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I was rightfully-awed by Andrews’ art and his expansive spirit that draws everyone in – changing people’s lives through art that comes from some place true.

Gordon Parks:IMG_8291 How The Photographer Captured Black and White America

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: Jamey Christoph
Published by: Albert Whitman and Company, 2015
Book borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I didn’t know about Gordon Parks until after I have read this short tale told quite beautifully by Weatherford in exquisitely-distilled language. This is a good example of how a complex multi-layered story can be told in deceptively-simple narrative that still manages to pack a punch.

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Admittedly, I wasn’t too keen about the art in the beginning, but it soon grew on me – and I noted how seamlessly the art and the text worked together – which is the reason why Weatherford had to say very little to drive her point across – it can be seen in the shades and hues of Christoph’s expressive art.

The image below is my favourite, as it shows how most educators with a limited mind-set could make or break a young dreamer – and all too often, people become successful in spite of these kinds of teachers and not because of them.

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Rather than be defined by other people’s expectations, Gordon Parks went on to buy a camera worth seven dollars and fifty cents which eventually changed his life. And just like Benny Andrews, Parks channeled his creative energies to give voice to the disempowered, and demonstrated through his camera lens the deplorable injustices experienced by African Americans – now immortalized through his American Gothic published in the Times.

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Through Gordon’s lens, her struggle gained a voice.

You don’t have to hear her story to know her prayer.

A beautiful book that I am very excited to discover this year. This will also be added to my multicultural picturebook database. I look forward to discussing this with my teacher-students as we talk about the role of teachers in encouraging or killing off the dreams of students under their care.

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I also just realized that it’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day! Naturally, we just have to be part of the celebration, albeit belated. Very excited to see what everyone else has shared in the 2016 Linky! Special thanks to Valerie Budayr and Mia Wenjen for continuing and going forward with this initiative.

  1. When I read it, I was confused by the Benny Andrews book until I had read the back matter. Then I immediately went back and reread the whole thing. I always think of this book when people ask me about the process of working with an illustrator–which comes first, the pictures or the story? Usually the story, but here…!

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  2. thank you so much for sharing these great diversity non fiction books at the Multicultural Children’s Book Day linky!!

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  3. These sound like important books!

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