Saturday, March 28, 2009

Counting with Wayne Thiebaud

Book: Counting with Wayne Thiebaud
Art by: Wayne Thiebaud
Text by:
Susan Goldman Rubin
Publisher: Chronicle Books

This genius book uses a selection of Wayne Thiebaud's delicious paintings spanning his career to help teach numbers. Art, math, rhyming text, and lots of luscious food? What more could you or your baby need from a book?

I am just a little bit too pleased that this is Henry's favorite book! In addition to being entertaining, educational, and scrumptious all at once, there is some history to why I like this book so much. Here it is:

Wayne Thiebaud is one of my all-time favorite painters. When I was in high school, I discovered his painting "Toy Mickey" in a book of painters reinterpreting Mickey Mouse--it was my favorite painting in the book. When I was an Art major in college, I realized that Thiebaud actually taught classes at my school. I would often wander around on the painting floor of the art building with no real reason other than to see if he happened to be there. (Alas, I never saw him in my wanderings.) I don't think I was ever so excited to register for a class as when the stars finally aligned and I could be in an Art History class he was teaching!

He was delightful. He wore a bow tie every day, for one thing, which was completely charming. Mr. Thiebaud is currently 88 years old, and still painting; when I took the class, he was in his early 80s. He was so enthusiastic about art. I loved getting to hear him talk about his favorite paintings, and why he liked them, and also about his early career as a painter. It was truly a privelege, and no matter how modest he was, I never got over how lucky I was to get to take a class from Wayne Thiebaud!

I also have rarely been as nervous as when, near the end of the quarter, I finally went to his office and found him there. I wanted to ask him about "Toy Mickey." (Is Mickey a toy? Or is Mickey really Mickey?) His reply: "Look at the shadows." He explained he'd always been very interested in shadows and what they reveal. (The "Toy Mickey" shadow does show a toy outline, so my take: The painting is a toy, seen from the perspective of a kid, or someone who believes the toy is real.)

Anyway, that's a really long way of saying, when Brad got me (I mean Henry) this book for Christmas, it was the perfect gift.

Baby Henry's current favorite spread: The hot dogs ("Seven Hot Dogs," 2006)

Henry slaps at the hot dogs on the page!

My favorite spread: "Pie Slice" (1991)

The texture of the painting comes across very well, especially for a baby board book. Plus, Henry often dives right into this page and smushes his mouth against the pie, which cracks me up. (Of course, I want to do the same--but how does an 8-month-old who's never had pie even know that that would be fun?)

Spread that could inspire OCD: The last one, "Gum Machine" (1964). The text prompts the reader to count all the gumballs. If you did this, though, maybe you'd get really good at estimating and win one of those "how many M&Ms are in this jar?" contests.

Deep thoughts: The concept is brilliant, and you get fun language, a little math, and lots of lovely pictures. I love the clean font and the soft, creamy yellow and light blue-green-gray page backgrounds. They perfectly set off the paintings and drawings, the real stars of the book.

It's an artsy book, but it's not pretentious; it's beautiful, but accessible to anyone; and I love it more the more I see it. Just like Thiebaud's paintings. Looking at the paintings from Henry's perspective is also great fun--and of course, I'm still studying the shadows.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Petit Connoisseur: Art

Book: Petit Connoisseur: Art
Concept by: Karen Salmansohn
Designed and illustrated by: Brian Stauffer
Publisher: Tricycle Press, an imprint of Ten Speed Press

No matter what kind of baby thing you're looking for, it's pretty easy to find a cute and fuzzy form of it. Baby clothes, toys, and books are generally pastel-colored and adorable, if not terribly thought-provoking. Which is great. But sometimes you want a toy or a shirt or even a book with some edge to it. That is why I love what I'm calling hipster baby books. Especially this one: Petit Connoisseur: Art.

The book has seven spreads dedicted to terms relating to art AND can be made related to baby terms, too. Examples: Dada and MoMA. This book totally cracked me up the first time I read it and "got" all the terms! So clever.

My current favorite spread: The same as Baby Henry's, "Dali (dolly)." It's gorgeously weird and wonderful.

Spread I had to do some research for: Yeah, it was the Dada one. Even though I was an Art Studio major, I still had to remind myself of how to pronounce it (and, uh, what exactly it means).

Deep thoughts: Much like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, which Henry also loved on his first visit, his reaction to the "Dali" spread reminds me that he's not yet old enough to be really creeped out. (A very nice revelation.) The baby doll with a Salvador Dali mustache, and the "melting" doll à la "Persistence of Memory," is certainly eerie to me; Henry is enchanted.

I appreciate how this image keeps the same theme of the Dali painting: from the mustached baby and the flat, unchanging "landscape," we can tell time is distorted in this baby world. It's a concept that I'm betting a lot of parents can relate to: how some days are so long, but how fast your baby grows up! No melting Dali clocks necessary to get that message across.

(Incidentally, I just googled the fitting expression "The days are long but the years are short" to see if I could find who coined the phrase. I didn't find that, but I did find this very sweet video:

Anyway, Henry just loves to look at this spread and smile. So do I--and that goes for the entire little book.