[Nonfiction Wednesday] Torturing An Already Tortured Soul in “The Artist And Me”

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

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We have just recently launched our new reading theme this March and April. For Nonfiction Wednesday, we are hoping to feature notable individuals whose lives have been plagued by illness: be they physical or mental in nature, and have struggled for most their lives. If you have titles that you’d like to recommend that you feel would be perfect for our reading theme, we’d be most happy to know about them.


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The Artist And Me

Written by: Shane Peacock lllustrated by: Sophie Casson
Published by: Owlkids books, 2016
ISBN: 1771471387 (ISBN13: 9781771471381)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Vincent VanGogh is infamous for his being a tortured soul that eventually led to his cutting off his own ear, and inevitably ended with him taking his own life. Clearly, he did not live a charmed existence. This book, written from a young boy’s perspective, who bullied Van Gogh, the artist, was quite eye-opening in so many respects.

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For one, there are few narratives written from the bully’s perspective, except perhaps for Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Bully, but even that I felt, also included the perspectives of the bullied. Here, the voice is distinctly human and flawed, as the grown narrator looked back on his childhood and tried to examine his own actions asa a young boy who taunted, tormented, and generally just made life as miserable as possible to this artist, who was perceived as an outcast in small town Arles in Southern France.

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There was proof that we were right. No one ever bought his art. He was very poor. That was not to be admired.

We called him horrible names. We threw things at him. It made us almost giddy.

While technically, this is a fictionalized retelling of a snapshot of Van Gogh’s life – the cruelty of children to Van Gogh – did happen. I also like how the young boy’s reflection did not seem contrived, but simply an examination of who he had been, his actions that brought a measure of regret – never articulated but implied, and the final statement: “I don’t laugh at him anymore” – suggestive of a world of emotions that were never fully expressed, allowing the reader space to come in and form their own conclusions and develop their own ideas.

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It also drives home the fact that way too many people still remain targets of such intolerant behaviours, hurtful name-calling, and harsh judgment – simply because their colours are too bright, their hair too red, their eyes too starry for comfort. Do pair this with Vincent Van Gogh And The Colors Of The Wind which we featured last year.

  1. This was such a sad story, yet I can imagine sharing with students and talking about the “why” of bullying and making fun. It’s a thoughtful theme you’ve chosen, Myra. The only picture book right now I can think of is Six Dots, about Louis Braille. I’ll let you know if more come to mind! Thanks for sharing your ideas about The Artist and Me!

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  2. This book was an interesting take on Van Gogh’s life. It kept reminding me of a nonfiction science title–A Friend for Lakota: The Incredible True Story of a Wolf Who Braved Bullying. I think reading them side by side with kids would generate fantastic conversation.

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  3. I’ve heard about this story, but I never knew what it was about!

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  4. This was such an interesting perspective. Now I want to listen to Starry Starry Night.

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