We finally got our hands on the 2017 Caldecott Award winner recently hence the very delayed Caldecott report! I knew who Basquiat was before we read it, but I didn't know much else about him. After reading this and then doing a little more poking around the internet about him, it became clear that he definitely was a very brilliant artist who dealt with a very troubled life. This kind of complexity makes writing a children's book about him tricky, because explaining a heroin overdose at 27 isn't really typical children's book fare. Steptoe focuses on his childhood and early years, as well as the difficult relationship with his mother and how it affected him—his irreverent approach to art is an invitation not to take the rules too seriously, and that underlying theme shines through. She leaves the most difficult parts of his life out, though she definitely plants the seeds of curiosity to learn more about him and his artwork: Steptoe's illustrations are inspired by vs. borrowed, so you get a feel for his work without seeing it on every page. I immediately wanted to see the real thing. It's a little scary, a lot dangerous, even more controversial, but also very, very fascinating—all that jagged color and angst grabs you and doesn't let you look away quickly. His presence lives on, with people debating the meaning and symbolism and depth even today. And isn't that what part of art is about?
As for the book: we liked it. We didn't love it. Don't get me started on this year's Newbery Award winner, though. I did not like it, Sam I am. I know people who did, and I've read plenty of reviews from people who fall on my side of the discussion... As usual, the Dillows have way too many opinions about books : )
Here's the list if you want to participate in the Caldecott Challenge!