There are some ideas out there that are tailor made subject matter for kids’ books. Penguins. The story of Pale Male. Dust bunnies. There are also ideas out there that SEEM tailor made for kids’ books… and aren’t. Art, for example. It is monumentally difficult to explain the importance of art or the artistic process without losing kids somewhere along the way. You usually end up with books like Seen Art? that are far more amusing to adult purchasers than to child readers. A good kid’s art book simplifies the process in such a way that it remains interesting without ever becoming simplistic. Holbrook: A Lizard’s Tale was able to do this, but that was more of a chapter book. So it was that I was delighted to find that "Hugo and Miles in I’ve Painted Everything!" is just what the doctor ordered tot-wise. Balancing neatly between a fun child-friendly plot and some rather grand but easy to understand ideas, author/illustrator Scott Magoon knows how to make a concept as radical as a myriad of artistic styles fresh and fun.
Hugo is in a rut. In the town of Cornville this resident painter has found that when it comes to ideas he’s somehow run completely out. After voicing his concerns to his pal Miles, the two happen upon a plan. Miles needs to travel to Paris to try out his newest invention. What if Hugo were to come along? Not entirely convinced, the young elephant still goes along with the idea and sure as shooting he sees all kinds of new things right off the bat. From museums to parks to cool angles to nighttime views, Hugo suddenly realizes all sorts of new ways to paint. Fired up he returns home and begins to use everything from new perspectives, colors, and tones to variable sizes, techniques, and subjects. With such a variety of ways to create art, you might think that a person would never quit being inspired. Hugo never is.
Magoon’s style is a flexible thing. It changes according to his needs. In the case of this particular book, the artist has opted for pencil outlines and digitally colored insides. Coulda fooled me. Looking at it, these colors have a distinctly watercolorish aspect to them. The way they dip lightly outside the lines and shift from one color to another is remarkable. And while I don’t think that Magoon wrote this book as an artistic how-to, but there are times when it seems as if he’s introducing concepts with easy to understand words. When Hugo speculates about various kinds of painting, Miles replies with some plays on his friend’s name. Painting everything in a solid color? "Hue-Go." Painting with light? "Hu-glow." And painting in an impressionistic style? "Van Hugo" (though I would have amended this to "Hu Gogh", given the chance).
I actually do get a fair amount of parents in my library with small children who are about to go to a large city (Paris, Tokyo, London, etc.) and would like a picture book to get their kids involved. Until now I only ever had one title in mind to hand to them (Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock, of course). Now I’ll have something a little more artistic to place in their hands as well. It’s a soft and lovely little story and one that I am certain many parents, librarians, and art teachers will find infinitely useful. A title that knows how to pluck the essence from a concept and render it child-friendly and smart. Great stuff.
Grace Lin was good enough to chronicle a book signing for this title.
I should also point out that Mr. Magoon is officially Hot Man of Children’s Literature #37.