Thursday, December 20, 2007

Van Gogh for Kids

There's a surprising number of van Gogh products for kids. My favorite van Gogh-themed kid's book is "Camille and the Sunflowers," authored and illustrated by Laurence Anholt, one of a series about famous artists. The drawings are both clever and lovely: Vincent looks so cute with his straw hat and wooden shoes! The message of the book is accepting others who are different from you, with young Camille Roulin (a real person, painted by Vincent) learning this lesson when his new painter friend is picked on by other kids in town. Camille's father Joseph Roulin is the other main character. Anholt clearly did his homework in crafting this sensitive story. Coming in second for me is "Vincent's Colors," a book produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here Vincent's own words are shaped into a poem, each line paired with an appropriate painting. Bright and colorful, kids are sure to like this book.

For littler ones, Baby Einstein's DVD "Baby Van Gogh World of Colors" is surprisingly good. I got it for my nephew (now 9 months old), and it quickly became his favorite. It calms him down when he gets a bit fussy. Each color is represented by a van Gogh painting ("painted" by puppet Vincent Van Goat) and matched with an almost surrealist barrage of colorful images set to music. My only complaint is that there is no Bonus Feature with commentary on the paintings. No, I have another, why on earth is "Sunflowers" put with Orange and not the more obvious Yellow??

Most people probably wouldn't think of Vincent as a lover of children, but he was. One of the great regrets of his life is that he never had a wife and family of his own. For a brief time, he had two surrogate children when he lived with prostitute Sien Hoornik in The Hague; she had a little girl and was pregnant again when she met Vincent. Vincent's letters to Theo during this time reveal his deep attachment to the children, and he loved drawing them too (see at right). After the relationship with Sien ended, Vincent's sadness at leaving the children, then bitterness at not having his own, come through in his letters.

I'm not sure how Vincent would feel about Starry Night umbrellas or Van Gogh action figures (yes, they exist), but I think he'd like his work being the subject of educational books and videos for children.

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