Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
Author/illustrator Javaka Steptoe
Suitable for: Grades 4–8, ESL, spatial learners, arts educators
Recommended by: Rose Reissman, Ditmas IS 62, UFT
Why I chose it: The middle school reader will be quickly captivated by the beautifully illustrated true story of a young boy challenged by a car injury early in life and the mental illness of his beloved mother, and finding healing through his art. The biography uses the richly realized Steptoe interpretations of Basquiat's paintings filled with cultural, city and personal references to add social context to the boy's art.
What I like best: Using capital fonts, Steptoe emphasizes the key values and life lessons he wants the readers to take from Basquiat's life. Among them: Drawings can and should be "sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still be BEAUTIFUL." The narrative and illustrations also detail how, as a child, the artist self-directed his talent through ongoing home illustrations, collages, graffiti and posters.
How teachers can use this book: Students will want to view Basquiat's actual work via cyber tour or museum visits to compare and contrast the actual artist's work with the book illustrations. Older middle school students might write an analytic essay about how the Steptoe interpretations reflect or differ from Basquiat's works. Students could develop their own art using ordinary bits and images of their family culture, signature illustrations or collages of themselves as evolving, young artists.
About the author: Steptoe won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for Radiant child. He has illustrated nearly a dozen books, including Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow, A story of the young Jimi Hendrix; and What's Special About Me, Mama.
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