The Sign Painter

Allen Say, Author, Allen Say, Illustrator
Allen Say, Author, Allen Say, Illustrator Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $17 (32p) ISBN 978-0-395-97974-7
Reviewed on: 10/30/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Paperback - 32 pages - 978-0-544-10514-0
Ebook - 32 pages - 978-0-547-77195-3
Open Ebook - 32 pages - 978-0-547-34591-8
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Like a 1930s cinematographer, Say (Grandfather's Journey), in perhaps his best work to date, pays tribute to a bygone era with a brief slice-of-life story about a boy's encounter with a sign painter. Neither the boy nor the sign painter has a name; what carries their connection and the story is their mutual love of painting. In the opening scene, Say depicts an Asian-American boy standing in front of an urban backdrop, right out of Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning: the red and green strip of storefronts and barber pole provide an ideal backdrop for the young painter's uniform of black trousers and white button-down shirt. From here, Say's full-page panel paintings almost tell the story by themselves. As the boy helps the sign painter work on a billboard, they receive a commission to paint a dozen more, all featuring a woman's face. Thus begins a journey across barren landscapes, through dust storms and into the foothills of a spectacular mountain range. The blonde woman on the billboards could have stepped out of a Hopper painting; one day, in a fleeting moment, she drives past the two paintersDlike Barbie in her pink Cadillac, in stark contrast to the desert scene. The purpose of the painters' enigmatic mission comes together like pieces of a puzzle through snippets of an overheard conversation. And when the job is finished, the boy, now returned to the city, stands in front of the corner bar from Hopper's Nighthawks, empty of customers. One can't help feeling wistful while gazing at this final scene. Say subtly and ingeniously blends a feeling of nostalgia with a hard-hitting immediacy. Even though young readers will not grasp its message as fully as adult readers, the images and the boy's passion as an artist will remain with them. All ages. (Oct.)
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