Sunday, 10 April 2016

Schiele and Vermeer books for children

What did I get? 2 children's art books by Catherine de Duve
How did I get them? A competition win from Galina Varese's lovely blog

In my header I state that I don't enter competitions for things I don't want or need. I wasn't sure what to expect from these books when I entered. I enjoy art and art history and anything that keeps the kids interested in them is good by me.This prize contained 2 books - "The Little Egon Schiele" and "Colour and Learn with the Little Vermeer"

Catherine de Duve is on a mission to bring art to children and has many books in print. What is most interesting is that she produces books that cover artists beyond the usual Van Gogh or Monet. The books are aimed at different age groups.

The Little Egon Schiele is aimed at a slightly older age group, maybe 8 - 10 years. The book is 30 pages long and gives a brief overview of Schiele's life with some historic background. The words are challenging but well-chosen for the age group. They complement the wonderful illustrations well and probably deserve a place in a school library. What irks me somewhat is the questions posed on each page. They are pitched at a quite different level to the language used in the text and quite patronising to someone reading the book and understanding the biographical details. For example, on one page we have the paragraph

"During this time locked away, Schiele becomes even more indignant against the authorities. he is furious that people can be so narrow-minded. Alone in his cell, he produces 13 drawings, including one which he calls Obstructing an artist is a crime, like murdering a life in the making!"

This page is faced with an explanation that the orange in one of these drawings represents Schiele's hope. The reader is then invited to draw the fruit which represents hope for them. This is such a waste of space - an intelligent description of an artists troubles followed by a space to draw a fruit. It makes a half-decent reference book a piece of ephemera that can only be used by one child. The idea behind this was lost to me.


The Little Vermeer suffers similar confusions. This is most definitely aimed at a younger audience than the Schiele and the words are fewer and chosen carefully. The bulk of the book describes the cultural and historic context in which Vermeer worked. Sadly, the book contains little of Vermeer's work for the child to see and is instead filled with black and white representations of his work for children to colour. This is a good idea but the quality of the drawings is quite poor and I can't see how this would hold the attention of a younger child. 

My children are 11 and 13 so a bit older than my estimated target audience. They certainly didn't see it as aimed at them. I've judged the books on how they would have seen them a few years ago and also through my own undergraduate training in childrens' literature. The books are a great idea to bring art to a younger audience but I don't think they would hold attention for more than one sitting. At £6.99 for the Schiele and £4.99 for the Vermeer they aren't extortionately priced, but perhaps extravagant as colouring books.

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