Radiant Child



Radiant Child; The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

by Javaka Steptoe

Age: 5+

Interests: artists, art, biography, New York, city life

Little, Brown and Company: New York/Boston, 2016

Also by this author: In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix (as illustrator)

Other picture book biographies for 5+: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, The Glorious Flight, Snowflake Bentley, Abraham Lincoln

This is a biography of the famous New York artist, taking us from his early life to the peak of his fame in the art world. The book does not talk about his drug use and early death in 1988 at the age of twenty-seven (though they are mentioned in the “More About…” section at the back of the book), but instead focuses on Jean-Michel’s childhood spent obsessively drawing, and the support and influence of his mother Matilde, who took him to theatres, museums, and art galleries. When she succumbs to mental illness and can no longer live at home, the boy’s heart breaks, and he tries his best to draw “the terrible out of his blues”. He continues to visit her and show her his drawings, and later, in his first flush of artistic fame, we see her in the seat of honour at a crowded art show opening.

This is a gentle and bright look at a short and turbulent life. The illustrations, painted on found wood harvested from the dumpsters and streets of Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, and the Lower East Side of New York. While there are no Basquiat reproductions in the book, the author has created art inspired by Basquiat’s motifs and style. The exuberant colours and bold designs, mixed with photographs and other collage materials, supports the repeated message that perfection is not the goal in art:

“His drawings are not neat or clean, nor does he color inside the lines. They are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.”

This message, as well as the many childish drawings by the young artist, makes this story highly relatable for young artists everywhere.

“People describe him as Radiant, Wild, A Genius Child, but in his heart he is king, so he draws crowns for himself and others he admires.”

The illustrations will draw readers in, and the message, of a dedicated young boy following his vision through good times and bad, will resonate with readers of all ages. And the last page, where we see the artist sharing his success with his mother, is a lovely and positive way to end the story. A vibrant and beautiful book.







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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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