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Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, written and illustrated by Eric Carle. Philomel, Penguin. $21.00 ages 2 and up

"I am an artist

and I paint..."

It is always fascinating to know what sets a person on the path to a lifetime of fulfilling work. Eric Carle is an artist and he has made my reading life more engaging since I first shared The Very Hungry Caterpillar with my own young children, and then with my children at school. We went on to read as many of his books as we could borrow or buy and they maintain an important place on our library shelves even today, when the children have grown and gone on to their own lives. They will, one day, be read to a new generation.

This new book honors Marc Franz, a German artist who loved to paint bright, unusually colored animals. His expressionist art was not appreciated by many in the early twentieth century. Eric Carle was growing up in Nazi Germany where such art was forbidden, and called 'degenerate'. Luckily he had an art teacher who could not quash his own enthusiasm for this forbidden art and he showed it to his young student. He was in awe of the color, the beauty and the freedom of it, something that he appreciated about what he saw in Eric's work. His mandate was to teach realism, and he could do little to encourage his student's intrinsic talent.

In the back matter, Eric Carle says: "My green lion, polka-dotted donkey and other animals painted in the 'wrong' colors were really born that day seventy years ago."  We, who have benefited from the artful work that Mr. Carle has been creating since the late 1960s, owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Herr Krauss for his encouragement and daring.

It is a simple book, filled with trademark text and stunning art. Young readers will love its whimsical animals and the ease with which they can read it on their own. They will be suitably surprised by the 'polka-dotted donkey' and agree wholeheartedly that Eric Carle is 'a good artist' indeed. It is his first book in four years, and I am delighted to see it. Bravo to the 80s, Mr. Carle! May you continue creating stunning and memorable work into your next decade, too.

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