Blog

Starry Night

The book weaves a story around van Gogh’s paintings. Readers also want information about the paintings. Every Monday we post about one painting in the book.

Kids (and parents) who read Vincent, Theo and the Fox often want to learn more about each of the 30+ paintings in it. So every Monday I’m posting interesting information about one of the book’s paintings. Here is educator Natalya St. Clair’s fascinating explanation of the math behind Starry Night. The video is animated by Avi Ofer.

Enjoy!

 

text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso

The story behind the story

Readers sometimes ask how I wrote Vincent, Theo and the Fox; how did you come up with the idea? This is the story behind the story.

To get my son to go on exercise walks with me I would tell him stories. They were simple action tales: Suddenly, a monster…Bam, a hero…Wham another monster. And then one day a real monster struck: Mark got very sick. He had a series of lung infections and several times a day had to sit still for twenty minutes breathing through a nebulizer. Not what an active 5 year old boy wants to do! Just before one of these episodes his grandmother was visiting and we had all gone to the National Gallery of Art to see an exhibit of van Gogh’s paintings. She bought the exhibit catalog, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs:  Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam by Richard Kendall with contributions by John Leighton and Sjraar van Heugten. One afternoon when Mark was being nebulized, he asked me to tell a story. I did not have it in me. He pointed to the catalog saying, “Read me the story.” I tried to explain, “It’s not a story.” Neither he nor Grandma would let me off easy. I had to “read” the catalog to him.

What to do? An art catalog is not a wham, bam action tale. I opened it at random and it showed Harvest at La Crau, with Montmajour iimage001n the Background (Arles, June, 1888). I thought to myself, “OK, Vincent has to be a boy to make this interesting…but what is he doing?” I surprised myself by saying, “One day, when he was a boy, Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, were looking at the harvest when they saw a fox sneak into the cart.” That picture and that idea became the start of Vincent, Theo and the Fox. Vincent and Theo chased the fox through a bunch of van Gogh’s paintings until the nebulizer was done. At that point, the fox got away and the boys went home.

The tale kept Mark engaged but it was not really a story yet. When I decided to turn it into a real story I knew it needed more. I asked myself, “What do boys do?” The answer, of course, is that they grow up.  And while they grow up they wonder what they will become. We all know that van Gogh became a painter, but he didn’t go there directly, trying a number of different jobs first. So as a boy in a story there is wonder and mystery when Vincent thinks about growing up. Somehow I came up with the idea that the fox was young too—he was also trying to grow up and find his way in the world. And that, I believe, is what makes Vincent, Theo and the Fox a delightful tale. We have two boys and a fox thinking about growing up and through their actions teaching each other about life. The writer, Susan Sontag, writes that “art is not only about something, it is something.” By this, she means that art isn’t like science or history, it doesn’t teach you facts you should know. Rather, literature gives readers an experience from which they learn and take their own lessons. I like to think that Vincent, Theo and the Fox achieves this: it does not teach about growing up, it lets readers learn about it.

Because the art is beautiful and chase tales are exciting, readers don’t “get” what they are experiencing until it is over. But my hope is that the story stays with children and they learn while they process the experience of the story. Because the book gives a brief biography of van Gogh in an epilogue, children learn about van Gogh while processing the experience of the story. I think this really engages them in van Gogh’s art and gives the story more depth.

What do you think about the story? What do your children get from it? If you want to leave comments I will read them with interest.

Thanks, Ted Macaluso

© 2016 – 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

Kids Books On Vincent van Gogh

Thanks so much for considering Vincent, Theo and the Fox Some other books about van Gogh are the following:

Vincent’s Colors. This gem of a book was written by van Gogh (through his letters to his brother) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The hardbound book introduces young (and old) readers to the colors of the rainbow by showing the artist’s words and paintings together.

Camille and the Sunflowers was published in 1994 but still enchants readers today. Laurence Anholt wrote and illustrated this story based on a true-life incident. See also van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books For Children) by the same author.

 

Visiting Vincent Van Gogh displays  some of the artists paintings and discusses how they reveal his life and emotions.

Katie and the Starry Night by author/illustrator James Mayhew is a classic. What’s Katie to do when she reaches into a painting and all the stars tumble out?

Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars by author/illustrator Joan Holub is part of the Smart About Art series. A fictional “Brad” writes a report about the artist.

Children’s Educational Book: Junior Vincent van Gogh: A Kid’s Introduction to the Artist and his Paintings by Fiona Holt is part of the “Smart Reads for Kids” series.

In the Garden with Van Gogh is a board book by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober.

What’s So Great About Van Gogh?: A Guide to Vincent Van Gogh Just For Kids! I have not read this book by Max Tanner. The book is intended to show children why van Gogh was so important for the world.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Cat is an art project written and illustrated by  Indiana Second Grade Students of East Washington Academy in Muncie

Twenty-Four Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings (Collection) for Kids by Stanley Cesar has mixed reviews on Amazon since there are no explanations for kids despite the title.

Parental warning – the books below include discussion of when van Gogh cut off his ear. Probably not for very young children.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book by the American Library Association. Ages 10 and up.

Vincent van Gogh – A Short Biography for Kids by Josephine Madden. This Kindle-only book is 14 pages.

Van Gogh (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venetia is part of a series.

Vincent Van Gogh (Art Profiles for Kids). Jim Whiting’s book is for ages 10 and up. It traces how van Gogh was tormented but continued to paint to express his feelings.

 

Happy Reading!

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso

7 Children’s Gifts To Tickle The Imagination

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching here are 4 books, a game, and 2 surprises worth checking out.

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching here are 4 books, a game, and 2 surprises worth checking out.

The Book with No Pictures Book with no pix

“This picture book with no pictures knows a thing or two about both books and kid-friendly comedy . . . Once children get the joke, they’ll want to play it on as many of their grownups as possible.”— The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

This book for 5 – 8 year olds has a 4.7 stars on Amazon.

4.7 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

Bugs in the Kitchen – Children’s Board Game 

Ths game won the ASTRA Best Toys for Kids 2015 award (Game Play 6+ Years). The suggested age range is 6-15.

Check it out here.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox

“It’s a compelling and suspenseful story that has a wonderful ending.  It makes van Gogh’s paintings even more memorable.

“This is the first book I’ve read where the illustrations are storied instead of the story being illustrated.  It’s a fun twist! It’s also one of the few stories where the illustrations are presented from a first-person perspective….It adds a depth of imagination that I’m not used to in picture books.  I can’t think of any other picture book doing this — it’s wonderful!”
The Picture Book Review (thepicturebookreview.com/)

5 stars on Amazon – Check it out here.

Fred & Friends MEALTIME MASTERPIECE Picture Frame Placemat, 48 Sheet Pad

MEALTIME MASTERPIECE Picture Frame Placemat

Who would have thought? A placemat that looks like a picture frame so you can arrange your food into a work of art. It is a 48 pad set.

4.5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

Wonder 

This book by R. J. Palacio is a N.Y. Times and Amazon best seller for 8 – 12 year olds.

“Wonder is a rare gem of a novel–beautifully written and populated by characters who linger in your memory and heart. August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who likes Star Wars and Xbox, ordinary except for his jarring facial anomalies. Homeschooled all his life, August heads to public school for fifth grade and he is not the only one changed by the experience–something we learn about first-hand through the narratives of those who orbit his world. August’s internal dialogue and interactions with students and family ring true, and though remarkably courageous he comes across as a sweet, funny boy who wants the same things others want: friendship, understanding, and the freedom to be himself. “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Amazon “best Book” review.

5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

US NATIONAL PARKS. Post card variety pack

I would not usually think of a box of postcards as a gift, but if you want to enhance a child’s imagination how better to have children dream and (hopefully) mark the places they have visited. And you do not have to stop with just the parks. There are sets of cards from all around America, from Europe, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

5 stars on Amazon- see this and other postcard sets here.

 

The Phantom Tollbooth 

Norton Juster’s hilarious book illustrated by Jules Feiffer is such a classic I cannot say enough good things about it! If you’re not already familiar with it, check it out.

4.5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

 

 

© 2015 by Ted Macaluso

 

Children’s books about van Gogh

Thank you for looking at Vincent, Theo and the Fox. If you are interested in other children’s books about Vincent van Gogh, here are some to consider. Clicking the links below takes you to the Amazon.com page about the book or item (you don’t have to buy it).

Vincent’s Colors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art – a beautiful book with factual text about van Gogh arranged as a rhyme.

Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars (Smart About Art) In this book “Brad” tells about van Gogh in the form of a school report featuring many drawings by Brad and some reproductions of van Gogh’s art.

van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children) A story based on a true incident in which a young boy brings some sunflowers to a stranger, who turns out to be van Gogh. The book primarily use Laurence Anholt’s illustrations with some reproductions of van Gogh.

The Starry Night. Neil Waldman’s illustrations shows Van Gogh-inspired paintings of Manhattan, but not van Gogh’s paintings.

The books above are all great. Here’s how Vincent, Theo and the Fox complements them: Vincent, Theo and the Fox introduces children who want an adventure story to the actual paintings of Vincent van Gogh. It helps parents, teachers, and grandparents motivate children to learn about art and visit museums. Its unique advantages are that it has over 30 full-color reproductions of van Gogh’s actual paintings, teaches about growing up and brotherhood as well as about van Gogh, can be read easily and quickly, and is inexpensive compared to many coffee table books.

~~~
More children’s books on van Gogh:
Children’s Educational Book: Junior Vincent van Gogh: A Kid’s Introduction to the Artist and his Paintings. Age 7 8 9 10 year-olds (‘SMART READS for … – Expand & Inspire Young Minds) (Volume 1)

More information about Vincent van Gogh

Thank you for.looking at Vincent, Theo and the Fox. If you are interested in more about the artist, here are some resources to consider.

BOOKS

Clicking the links below takes you to the Amazon.com page about the book or item.

Van Gogh: The Life

Van Gogh’s Letters: The Mind of the Artist in Paintings, Drawings, and Words, 1875-1890

Van Gogh at Work (Mercatorfonds)

WEBSITES

The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Vincent van Gogh Gallery. This is a private website that has a wealth of information.