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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, written by Kathleen Benson and illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"By the time they were teenagers, most of Benny's friends went to work in the fields full-time. But Benny was miserable there. Every row of crops was the same as the other row. The hot sun beat down through the straw hat on his head. The hoe was heavy in his hands. Benny dreamed of leaving. He did not have a clear plan, but he knew the first step ..."

In this brief look at Benny Andrews, his life and art, Kathleen Benson shows her admiration for the man and his mission. She begins with a lovely and telling note about the man himself, who knew that children in New Orleans were suffering following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"The artist Benny Andrews traveled from New York City to Louisiana to work with those children. He showed them how to draw pictures of what they had seen, to use art to express their feelings about what they had been through. He knew from his own experience how important this kind of self-expression was."

He most certainly did. For years, Benny had been drawing life as he saw it. He was only 3 when his art career began. He took a careful look at his world, and made art from his surroundings. While attending church he created mind pictures that he would later put to paper. At school, the other children knew he was an artist. He was constantly drawing what he saw and heard.

While his friends went to work in the cotton fields, Benny dreamed of being anywhere but there. He knew that he needed further education, and was allowed to attend high school. He walked there and back, always thinking about a bigger world. Upon graduation, he went to college, then joined the air force. Following his service, he moved to Chicago for art school.

Inspired by the people he saw, he honed his craft and became a 'master of movement' on the painted canvas. Always working at his art, Benny became an advocate of art for everyone. His success as a working artist allowed him to share that art, and teach his students to draw what they saw ...just as he did.

As moving as the story of his life's work is, the artist's own art graces the pages to give readers a clear look at the man and to honor his art.

A 2003 photograph of the artist faces an author's note and list of sources and resources in back matter. An extensive and detailed timeline chronicles his amazing life and his many worthy accomplishments. Finally, each of the images used to illustrate this excellent picture book biography are described by title, medium and date.

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