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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

21 December 2003 DAN'S ANGEL: A DETECTIVE'S GUIDE TO THE LANGUAGE OF PAINTINGS by Alexander Sturgis, illustrated by Lauren Child, Kane/Miller, September 2003, ISBN 1-929132-47-6


In the third through fifth grade school library where I've spent some time volunteering this fall, Joan Steiner's LOOK-ALIKES series and the Jean Marzollo/Walter Wick I SPY series are shelved in the high 700s between Jokes/Riddles and Sports. Owing to the healthy and constant circulation enjoyed by these books, I could easily sleepwalk to that spot on the shelves.


Kids who have spent endless hours poring over LOOK-ALIKES and I SPY books will join with budding artists and art critics in delighting over DAN'S ANGEL, a picture book for older kids which offers a fun first look at symbolism in art. Written by the Exhibition and Program Curator of the National Gallery in London, it is illustrated by Lauren Child who is well known around here after winning the 2003 California Young Reader Medal in the Primary Category for I WILL NEVER EVER EAT A TOMATO.


Dan is a skateboard kid who happens upon an art museum and is checking it out when the unexpected occurs:


"The walls were covered with paintings full of strange and beautiful things. Some seemed to tell stories, but he couldn't work out what the stories were.

" 'You can't read paintings like you can read books,' he sighed.

" 'You can read this one,' a voice said. It seemed to come from a painting of an angel talking to a woman."


That angel speaking to Dan is Gabriel and the painting is Fra Angelico's The Annunciation. Gabriel splits the painting and leads Dan on a tour of some well-known works to explain how artists tell stories using symbolic images. From Belshazzar's Feast and Botticelli's Venus and Mars to Picasso and Pollack, we see examples of artists deliberately utilizing such symbols as colors and animals, bubbles and flowers.


Alas, the tour ends because the museum guard is once again after the oft-missing angel, and Gabe heads back to where he belongs--in the painting. There is a good dose of visual humor--such as Gabriel on Dan's skateboard--and Lauren Child uses her own symbolic images within Dan's story.


This book will also serve as a great stepping stone to later important lessons of symbolism in literature.


Richie Partington




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