cover image HOKUSAI: The Man Who Painted a Mountain

HOKUSAI: The Man Who Painted a Mountain

Deborah Kogan Ray, . . FSG/Foster, $18 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-33263-1

The spirit of Hokusai, the Japanese artist best-known for his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, moves through the pages of Ray's (The Barn Owl) study with indefatigable energy. Born in 1760 and a rare peasant to rise to prominence during an era when Japan remained closed to the outside world, Hokusai outshone his masters and defied convention until his death at age 89. The painter, who never knew his father and whose mother died when he was just six years old, developed a quiet confidence and portrayed the peasantry from whence he came: " 'I must paint the way my heart tells me,' he told wealthy patrons when they refused to buy his pictures of laboring artisans and humble farmers toiling in the fields." Ray's wash and colored-pencil illustrations depict Kabuki stages and fish markets that echo Hokusai's own sketches of everyday life (reproduced on the book's endpapers) yet her style remains her own. Instead of emulating the empty spaces and delicate brushwork characteristic of Japanese artwork, she drafts her figures with tangible weight and mass and clothes them in heavily shaded robes in deep blue, red and aqua. The text supplies plenty of historical background without undue complexity. Older children will be drawn to Hokusai's lively world, and adults will find inspiration in the man who wrote as he lay dying, "Even as a ghost/ I'll gaily tread/ the summer moors." Ages 7-up. (Oct.)