Radiant Child is a masterful tribute to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe channels Basquiat’s energy and love for his city in how he uses found-wood pieces from landmarks all over NYC and paints them in rich colors.
This is an honest and thoughtful picture book. It introduces Basquiat and his art to children and is exactly what we need in children’s literature, especially for children of color. A confident, smiling black boy on the cover is powerful in and of itself.
In Radiant Child, we meet a Haitian/Puerto-Rican boy from 1960s Brooklyn, NY who dreams of becoming an artist. Basquiat is a focused and messy artist and his mother, also a creative person, encourages him to create. His mother leaves home because of her mental health and this leaves him heartbroken…but not broken; he keeps creating and drawing outside of the lines. As he gets older, his drawings become graffiti. He makes sure to stay connected to his mother as best he can; he wants her to see the artist he becomes. His graffiti, under the name “SAMO,” eventually becomes art in galleries and museums. Basquiat’s talent and drive bring him international fame.
Steptoe uses powerful and lyrical text (“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist”) to tell Basquiat’s story. His art is equally compelling; brightly painted & collaged wood blocks are fun to look at. None of Basquiat’s original art is used in this book; it’s all Steptoe’s original work inspired by the artist. As we learn about Basquiat’s life, style and use of symbolism, we can also study the symbolism that Steptoe tucks into his detailed illustrations. The cover alone (Haitian and Puerto Rican flags prominent, ABC blocks that spell out Basquiat’s name, etc. ) tells Basquiat’s story.
I love that this book celebrates Basquiat’s relationship with his mother and that it’s honest about mental illness; this is important for children, as many may relate to Basquiat’s life. A lengthy Author’s Note gives readers more information about Basquiat (including information about his drug addiction and death) and tells us why and how Steptoe came to create this book.
This vibrant and beautiful book is one of the best of 2016. It will win a Coretta Scott King Award but will it also get a Caldecott? I hope it does; the art is top notch. Nevertheless, I hope many children read Radiant Child because Basquiat’s spirit, creativity and determination to create are inspiring!
Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Art, Love, African-American, Haitian, Puerto-Rican, Biography, Determination, Dreams, Mental Health, Diversity, Non-Fiction, New York, Discussion
Book Info: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316213882