The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds (2003, Candlewick, ISBN 0-7636-1961-2)
Vashti stubbornly refuses to participate in art class because she says she can’t draw. Her teacher asks her just to make a mark on the page, so Vashti angrily stabs at it with a marker, leaving a dot in the middle of the page, and her teacher tells her to sign her work. The next week, her signed dot is on display behind the teacher’s desk, and Vashti decides she can make a better dot than that one. As her creativity begins to flow, she starts making dots of all sorts and sizes, and her work is featured at the school art show where she challenges a young admirer who doubts his abilities to make his mark…and sign it.
On the book flap, the author says he’s seen artistic interest wane as children get older and lose confidence in their ability. This book provides a great, non-preachy commentary on the importance of individuality and expression in art, not just technical prowess. Although the text (hand-lettered by the author) is important in that it tells the story (in what seems to me to be more of an oral storytelling/read-aloud style than one simply meant for independent reading) of Vashti’s transformation from defeated non-participant to experimental artist, the art of the illustrations–simple and sketchy–tells the real story. Done in watercolor, ink, and tea, the illustrations are almost completely in grayscale…except for the dots. Sometimes the color is just in the dot that Vashti is painting, and sometimes it’s used (in dot form nearly every time as well) as an expression of the mood of the scene (such as the roughly splashed, orangy red dot with purplish splotches that frames Vashti’s angry stab at her paper). The text and illustrations explore many possible permutations within the theme of dots, demonstrating that creativity can be expressed even within seemingly tight limits.
GirlChild’s Reaction: GirlChild asked us to read this book multiple times, and when I suggested that she paint her birthday thank-you cards, she chose to copy some of the style from this book (in her just-turned-four-year-old way). She used her watercolors, a brush, and some Q-tips, and as she worked she kept repeating, “Her dots made quite a splash.” You can see an example of one of her cards below. (Don’t worry…I made her sign her art on the inside!)
Clearly this book could be used to encourage children to embrace their own style and give art (or anything, really) a fair try instead of just giving up and saying, “I can’t!” An excellent book to share with a child who might be discouraged!