What can happen if you venture into a painting?

posted in: Bjørn Sortland | 11

Our first Norwegian picture book for our Reading Round Europe adventure is Anna’s Art Adventure by Bjørn Sortland, illustrated by Lars Elling.

Anna has been taken by her uncle to his place of work, an art museum. From her body language you sense that she is a reluctant visitor to the galleries and despite her uncle’s reassurance that the visit “will be fun” Anna isn’t convinced.

Things get off to a bad start.

Anna watched the grown-ups who were listening to her uncle.

“Visual art…,” Uncle Harold said in a serious voice, “is a vast subject. I shall attempt to explain, so please keep your questions for later.”

And then they only get worse. Anna needs a pee. In fact she really needs to go to the bathroom. So she slips away from her uncle and his audience and asks a wrinkled old man if he knows where the bathroom is.

This wrinkled old man, however, is none other than Rembrandt: Anna is talking to his self portrait. But without batting an eyelid, Rembrandt answers and sends Anna off on an exploration through landscapes and characters in a variety of paintings in the gallery as she tries to find the toilet painted by Marcel Duchamp. “Had Duchamp exhibited a real toilet or a piece of art? Anna had to find out because she really had to go.

Anna follows a winding road through an Edvard Munch painting, across a van Gogh landscape, bumps into Picasso on a beach, dreams her way through a Magritte picture and is very intrigued to find Jackson Pollock creating what appears to be a huge mess as he completes a characteristically explosive painting.

As if waking from a reverie Anna finds herself back in the gallery listening to her uncle’s tired voice. Anna thinks to herself, actually

“He doesn’t’ know who really painted that picture or what can happen if you venture into a painting”.

But Anna knew – she had tried it for herself.

If you didn’t know who the author and illustrator were of this book you would have no reason to suppose that this is a picture book from Norway. It’s simply a lovely, detailed, engaging book about art, which happens to have been created by two talented Norwegians. I love how it captures the idea that if you can just let yourself go, allow yourself to let go of any preconceptions, you can escape into a picture and it will take you on an adventure.

The story draws on two common childhood experiences – being bored listening to an adult talking about something rather dull and desperately needing a pee. I’m sure M could identify with Anna’s situation and this empathy immediately drew M into the book.

On each page the illustrations are in the style of the painting through which Anna is walking. Elling, an established fine artist, as well as a book illustrator, vividly captures the essential elements of the different artists; they’re all instantly recognizable to an adult reader. The end pages of the book include mini biographies of each artist Anna meets, and thereby add the finishing touches to making this a wonderful book to read before visiting an art gallery.

Having read this book with M I’m keen to visit a gallery and ask her to find a picture or two which particularly appeal to her, which she would like to step into. I wonder what sort of pictures she’d choose and what sort of stories she’d spin inspired by what she sees.

Having been busy with our librarithon, however, we stayed at home and used this book as the perfect excuse to try something I’ve been itching to do with the girls for months – create their very own painting in the style of Jackson Pollock.

We did this outside because it really is quite a messy, physical project – great for encouraging a bit of outside play whilst it’s still a little cold outside. I put out a large canvas and some paint with a fairly runny consistency.

The girls splattered to their hearts’ content. Paint went every. All over the patio and all over the girls and boy, did they love this very physical painting!

I also liked it that this was an art project they could work on together, to create a joint piece of art.

The amount of paint on the canvas meant it took almost 3 days to dry! But now we’ve got it hanging in our kitchen and the girls are very proud of it.

Anna’s Art Adventure: ** (two out of three stars)

As our painting was outside we didn’t listen to any music whilst we splattered, but these songs are ones we like that go well alongside Anna’s Art Adventure:

  • In the Gallery by Dire Straights
  • Andy Warhol by David Bowie
  • I am the Artist by The Annies

  • Any of the following activities would go well with reading Anna’s Art Adventure:

  • Visit a gallery, either in person, or virutally, using the Google Art Project. Chalk in my Pocket has a lovely introductory post on this amazing resource.

  • Create a Piet Mondrian inspired piece of art (Mondrian features in Anna’s Art Adventure), using masking tape. Stick strips of tape over your piece of paper at right angles then get the kids to paint all over. When the paint is dry remove the tape and you’ll be left with a geometric, colourful piece of art that might just be mistakable for a Mondrian. See Preschools 4 All for an example. Alternatively, use black masking tape and leave it in place.

  • Create a Warhol inspired print (Anna also bumps into Andy Warhol), something like our recent pufflings. Art Projects for Kids has another Warhol-esque project, which doesn’t involve printing.

  • Anna’s Art Adventure could be fun to read alongside any of James Mayhew’s Katie books, one of which I’ve reviewed here.

    I hope you don’t feel cheated that today’s Norwegian book didn’t have an especially Norwegian feel to it – such picture books have been hard to find! But next week I’ll be back with one that is set in Norway and is very beautiful indeed… See you then!

    11 Responses

      • Zoe

        hi Se7en, We got our copy through the library system so I hope you can too!

    1. maggy, red ted art

      Ooooh we have that book and we LOVE it Was surprised that my son (only just 3) really took to it (he liked the fact that we were looking for a toilet!). LOVE your painting. We will SOOOOO Be copying you this one soon! Thanks for the fab craft and lovely book!

      Maggy x

      • Zoe

        Yes, the hunting for the toilet was a stroke of genius I think, Maggy! It’s a great craft for outside – I also thought about doing it with fabric paint on a bed sheet hanging from the washing line – wanted to create a really big canvas, and think this idea could be lots of fun if you had a whole group of children involved.

    2. Even in Australia

      My daughter’s preschool class did a Jackson Pollock-esque painting for the school auction. We won it and it hangs over our dining room table. People are shocked it was painted by 12 4-year-olds. Speaking of which, in the original Olivia book, she is inspired by a museum visit to paint like Jackson Pollock. “I could do that myself,” she thinks, and then does – all over the wall!

      • Zoe

        Hi Even In Australia,
        What a lovely story! I can imagine that this style of painting works even better with lots of people involved – more colour and more splatter! When we had an extension built, M got to paint on the old walls before they were knocked down – she loved it and still talks about it nearly 3 years later (which when you’re 6 is quite something I think!)

    3. Amy Broadmoore

      This Reading Around Europe series of posts looks great! I am putting together lists of great picture books about each continent. Surprisingly, I have found it most challenging to find good books set in Europe here in the U.S. Thank you for sharing these books.

      • Zoe

        Ooh Amy, you’re in for a treat – there is such an amazing wealth of picture books from all over Europe – I just don’t have the time to review all the books I’d like! Great to discover you and your blog. I think it’s going to become a favourite – and I love the quilt in your header!

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