Claudia Miravista loves it when her class takes a trip to the art museum because Claudia loves art. But when she sees a boy go in and out of view in some paintings, she is ridiculed by her peers when she tries to tell them about it. But the boy, Pim, is real, and Claudia learns that there is a world behind the paintings and because she is “Artisti” she has the ability to also travel in the land behind the canvas and possibly help Pim. Pim was trapped in the land a century ago by a witch.
In her journey behind the canvas Claudia faces the witch and meets a number of famous artists.
This is really a remarkably original fantasy. The fact that we get some art lessons adds to power of the book. Author Alexander Vance does a really nice job of world-building here with the realm inside the paintings. The inclusion of some famous artists (without saying directly who they are) is a great touch (and as Rembrandt is one of my favorite classical artists, seeing him here definitely had me smiling).
The characters of Claudia and Pim are really great. They definitely capture the curiosity and go-to-it-ness of middle schoolers. And while the mystery of Pim and the witch is on the simple side, I think that there is enough here to really capture the interest of young readers. And while the entire world is about art and art history, most young readers may not even realize that they are getting a pretty good art lesson while reading this book. Even non-art lovers will likely enjoy this journey.
One of my favorite parts of the book are the footnotes. At first, one might read the footnotes as boring, dry historical notes about some of the art periods and artists, but in fact while informing the reader, they are also quite humorous. Written as though they are excerpted from an art history book, they really add a humorous element to the book. For instance:
JOHANNES VERSPRONCK (CA. 1603–1662). Portrait artist from the Dutch Golden Age. He was known for having a fine eye for detail, which required making his sorry subjects sit for days at a time. This would explain why no one is smiling in his paintings. Still, his Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue would be featured on Dutch banknotes centuries later. More than 39 million banknotes printed—not many artists can brag about that kind of circulation—nor about having their artwork squished in wallets under millions of Dutch buttocks. (Excerpted from Dr. Buckhardt’s Art History for the Enthusiast and the Ignorant.)
All in all, this is really a fun read and I love anything that might get our youth interested in art. It is highly recommended.
Looking for a good book? Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance is great adventure in art for younger readers and will likely educate the reader without the reader realizing it.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Behind the Canvas
author: Alexander Vance
publisher: Feiwel & Friends
hardcover, 336 pages