Katie and the Sunflowers
Orchard Books, June, 2001.
Picture Book, 32 pages.
Author/illustrator James Mayhew has a unique way of introducing young children to the enjoyment of art. He puts a child named Katie into the paintings and allows Katie to interact with the subjects of the paintings. Mr. Mayhew is very adept at capturing the colors and form of the original paintings. He then goes a step further by incorporating the paintings' backgrounds and subjects into a clever narrative. No child who has read this book, or who has shared it with an adult, will forget what is in these particular paintings because everything in them is made to come alive in the narrative, as well as in the illustrations.
Katie is helping her grandmother in the garden when it begins to rain. Grandma suggests that they go to the museum instead. In the museum Grandma must sit down to rest and this leaves Katie time to look around. When she finds a painting called Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, Katie feels that because the painting looks dry and crunchy that she might be able to get some seeds for her garden. She reaches into the painting to get the seeds (where are the ever nervous museum guards who watch children so anxiously?). Disaster happens and the entire vase falls out of the painting, spilling the flowers all over the floor. Katie, much distressed, hears giggling and finds that the girls in Paul Gaugain's Breton Girls are enjoying her dilemma. Katie asks for help and the girls finally agree if Mimi can bring her dog, Zazou. But Zazou immediately rushes into Van Gogh's Café Terrace at Night carrying the sunflowers with him. The merry little chase proceeds through Cezanne's Still Life with Apples and Oranges, and Paul Gauguin's Tahitian Pastorals where the little group meets two beautiful women and their red dog. Zazou's frantic digging uncovers pirate treasure which Katie tries to share with the women. They refuse the money because they live in paradise and have everything they could ever want. Katie and Mimi take a few coins, thank the women and then try to find their way back through the museum trying to put everything back as it should be. Finally after all of her adventures, Katie finds Grandma again, and tells Grandma that she likes the rain because it makes everything grow. Having the paintings come alive in Katie's adventure will surely give any child a familiarity with the work of the post impressionists and a comfortable feeling about art museums. On the last page the reader will find a very helpful summary of the point of view of the post impressionists which will add an historical interest to the story. This little story should delight any adult or child unless, of course, one is a museum guard.
--Sarah Reaves White
Katie and the Sunflowers is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the August, 2001 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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