cover image The Boy Who Loved to Draw: Benjamin West

The Boy Who Loved to Draw: Benjamin West

Barbara Brenner. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-395-85080-0

This innovative picture book/chapter book hybrid vividly brings to life the childhood of noted American painter Benjamin West (1738-1820). The youngest of 10 children in a Quaker family, Benjamin becomes inspired at the age of seven and draws pictures every chance he gets. When quill and paper aren't enough, a Native American friend shows young Benjamin how to mix clay and bear grease into paint colors, and Benjamin learns-by trial and error, using hair from his pet cat-how to make simple paintbrushes. Brenner (If You Were There in 1776) distills West's formative years into a lively narrative. She makes Benjamin easy to like, giving equal emphasis to his singular passion for art and to the qualities he has in common with readers (e.g., a knack for getting into trouble, then fearing the consequences). Dunrea's (The Painter Who Loved Chickens) gouache compositions capture the sparse simplicity of colonial-era Pennsylvania. Pared-down, favoring the grays and muted colors associated with traditional Quaker furnishings, these pictures pay their respects to the art of the period but retain warmth and a childlike puckishness; the horizontal format, approximately 10"" x 7"", accentuates Dunrea's painterly style. An author's note chronicling West's career and featuring reproductions of several works is included. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)