"What a gorgeous painting," exclaimed the judge of Ms. Fair's first-grade art contest. "What a beautiful rabbit!"
For Emily, the words are a shock.
Her painting is of her dog, Thor. Not a rabbit.
But instead of thinking: What's wrong with this judge? Emily takes the words, and the judgment, to heart.
Just as she takes her art.
Not everyone, not Ms. Fair, or even Emily's best friend, Kelly, can see that.
Catalanotto (The Painter; Dylan's Day Out) subtly conveys the value of creating art for art's sake in this tender picture book. When Emily's first grade teacher announces an art contest for which a judge will choose the best entry, Emily is skeptical: "Does the judge know which is better?" she asks. Nevertheless, each day Emily paints a new piece of art and, near the end of the week, she chooses to display "her new favorite," a watercolor of her dog, Thor, with his rather large ears at attention. When the judge first chooses Emily's piece because she mistakes Thor for a rabbit then rejects Emily's painting when she learns he's a dog (because of the judge's fear of dogs), Emily buries her painting (" 'I'll never paint again,' she whispers"). But a reassuring exchange with her best friend rekindles Emily's passion to paint. Catalanotto creates visually arresting scenes; in several spreads, he places Emily's and other students' art in the forefront, while his own fluid, more defined watercolor-and-acrylic compositions carry the narrative forward in smaller panels elsewhere on the page. He carefully crafts each scene to depict a new step in Emily's emotional journey (she appears to be nearly transparent when she's feeling blue, for example), which gives the text a satisfying resonance. Aspiring Picassos everywhere will find much to contemplate and cheer about here. Ages 5-8.