Friday, August 26, 2005

Dan's Angel

Dan's Angel is a rare type of picture book. It's creative and intelligent enough to appeal to an older child as well as to the read-aloud set. I can see it being used frequently in the classroom (2nd-5th grade, even) as well as in libraries.

Dan is a kid who loves to solve mysteries. One day he stumbles into a museum. (The book's author, Alexander Sturgis, is the Exhibition and Program Curator at the National Gallery in London.) As Dan examines Fra Angelico's The Annunciation the angel Gabriel speaks to Dan and asks him questions about the painting. Gabriel then leads Dan through the museum asking him about a variety of famous works by artists including Rembrandt, Claude Lorrain, Francisco de Goya, Botticelli, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

Gabriel asks questions that lead Dan to really think about the paintings and what they mean. For example, when Gabriel leads Dan to Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Dan says, "Well, I don't think this painting has any hidden meaning at all. It's just yellow flowers in a yellow vase on a yellow table in front of a yellow wall." And Gabriel replies, "Colors have meaning too" and the pair then discuss what yellow meant to Van Gogh.

My favorite conversation concerns Picasso's Weeping Woman. Dan says, "What a mess...People don't look like that." Gabriel replies, "Of course they don't...but perhaps the artist wanted to paint what she felt like, not what she looked like."

Dan's Angel inspires children to really think about art and the intent of the artist. It's very clever and informative. And beautiful. The paintings themselves are reproduced and juxtaposed with Lauren Child's familiar and comfy illustrations. This pairing was an inspired choice because Child's illustrations make the unfamiliar (to a child) art more approachable.

Oh, and the room attendants are frequently asleep at their posts, except for one guard who is obsessed with tracking down the runaway angel.