Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake

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Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake

Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Take 26 pictures and extrapolate from them what you will, in this exceedingly broad and inventive trawl through centuries of gallery-worthy images. Brilliant.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 72 Date: January 2015
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Book
ISBN: 9781847806420

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When did you last read a children's book that absolutely flummoxed you in the way it showed or told you something you didn't know? (And please be an adult when you answer that, or else it won't be quite so impressive.) Back in 2001, Quentin Blake wasn't a Knight yet – he hadn't even got his CBE – but he did get allowed to put on his own show at the National Gallery, with other people's pictures that contain oddities, stories, unexpected detail – sparks on canvas and paper that would inspire anyone looking, of whatever age, to piece things together, work things out, form a narrative. The pictures came with no major labelling, no context – just what they held, and some typically scratched Blake characters discussing the images as a lead-in. They were simply hung in alphabetical order, and probably could not have been more different. This then is a picture book of the most literal kind, with 26 stories.

And what stories. And what pictures – of all of them I could see what was really going on in just a few of them – Pinocchio is here, as is the creation of the Trojan Horse, and there is a shipwrecked party, somewhere, at night. Elsewhere you're overwhelmed with story, even in the very first image, unusual for being a circular work, crammed with detail and narrative. There are ruined cities, people embracing, or mourning, travelling animals, discoveries being made, and more. So the artwork is just stunning and stunningly diverse – I'm not completely ignorant of art yet here is a Hopper I've not seen, that was a Goya, and a Tiepolo, that I'd never known. I might have seen one of the designs before – and that tally isn't helped by some being from Polish-born modern illustrators, but it's a shocking score to admit to.

The stories don't always come across very well – in this reproduction it was hard for me to pick out the boy and his dog driving a steam train, and the boy at the seaside, and I didn't even see the fish being spotted by the clown (don't ask). But the stories are there. The book is 'solved' if you like by the names of the images and details about their creators at the end of the book, so this serves as a great lead-in to further basic academic study. But before then it's a source of wonder – as well as wondering. The fact that the artworks can be so open-ended will inspire you to draw sequels, write stories built around the details, discuss the unknown and make the images your own. Such things whole museums are designed to never do with their concentration on biographical detail, interpretation and fact, but this book does it with just as much aplomb as any national institution.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a more fictional approach to a similar idea to Blake's, we suggest Katie and the British Artists by James Mayhew. Explore and Draw Patterns: An Art Activity Book by Owen Davey and Georgia Amson-Bradshaw is a great way for the family to get to making their own masterpieces.

Buy Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake at Amazon.com.


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