July 03, 2015

Grant and Tillie Go Walking

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
August, 2015

Although I’m feverishly trying to catch up on overdue book reviews since health issues have me backlogged, I dreamed over and over again about the book Grant and Tillie Go Walking last night and felt compelled to review it today.  

A farm boy in Iowa, Grant was a part of the rural landscape, though he dreamed of adventure and excitement beyond the farm or so he tells his cow Tillie, his faithful companion and great giver of milk.  So off he goes to Paris, hopeful of becoming a true artist.  But, try as he might look like an artist in his beret and goatee, his artwork is missing something.  Just as Tillie is missing Grant, Grant is missing home,  “the place he loved and the people he knew best.” (pg. 31).  And returning home, a place he’d thought he hadn’t belonged, brought the inspiration for one of his most famous paintings, that of his sister Nan and the family dentist as a stern farming couple.
While the Grant of the title is modern artist Grant Wood (1891-1942), the story Monica Kulling has created about the American is a fictionalized account of how he became an artist and the artist of the iconic painting American Gothic (1930).  It’s about trying to belong and be who you think you are and of coming home.  Whether illustrator Sydney Smith feels any connection with Grant Wood’s modernist ways, I don’t know.  But I do know that both artists’ work demonstrates the heart of his community at its core.  Sydney Smith might live in Toronto and not in rural Iowa (see his sketches at http://sydneydraws.tumblr.com) but his subtle, speckled illustrations in Grant and Tillie Go Walking radiate the down-to-earth art of Grant Wood without mimicking it.  Grant and Tillie Go Walking is an exemplary story of how an artist came to be an artist appreciatively told through the words and pictures of two artists in their own right.

1 comment:

  1. Such high praise. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear Helen. -- Monica K.