Tuesday, September 20, 2011

AUGUSTINE


By Mélanie Watt

(Kids Can Press, 2006)

This is a multipurpose book.
1) Use it as a springboard to talk with a child about moving.
2) Read and discuss it before a child goes to a new school.
3) Combine #1 and #2.
4) Consider a first “read” by omitting the text and interpreting the grid of
nine pictures on the left side of each spread. Kids will get the meaning
and then be more invested in the story when it is officially read aloud.
5) Build an art study around any one of the artists or paintings emulated in
the middle frame of each grid. (Artists and titles of the inspired works
appear at the back of the book.)
6) Create a more complete art study, spending a week on each of the thirteen
featured artists (e.g., van Gogh, Warhol, Munch, Matisse, Warhol). As a
Canadian, I am pleased that Group of Seven member Lawren Harris is included.

Sorry about all that, above. My mind races when I come across an inventive book such as this.

Augustine is a penguin, named after painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Her dad’s job requires that the family move from the familiar South Pole to the unknown North Pole. Augustine experiences packing, goodbyes, a first plane ride, a new home, a new class. Ultimately, through art, the little penguin discovers a new way to connect.

Mélanie Watt fans, accustomed to the humor of her Scaredy Squirrel and Chester books, may be disappointed with Augustine. This book is a different creative turn for Watt, one that I am glad she has taken. Overall, this book takes familiar themes and adds creative touches. The portrait of Augustine’s new teacher is reminiscent of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; naturally, the teacher’s name is Miss Lisa. When the penguin stands alone watching her new classmates play catch with a ball, Watt expresses Augustine’s feelings with a sketch of a ball and the Magritte-inspired caption “This is not a ball.”

Augustine is a pet project, its impetus being Watt’s own memories of moving from city to city while growing up in Canada. Like the penguin, she found art as an outlet for expressing herself and connecting with others. The book is now a vehicle for teachers to instill a love of art in many more youngsters.

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