Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry, illustrated by Brittany Jackson
Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry
illustrated by Brittany Jackson
Purchased with grant funding for my school library
About two years ago, the photo above, taken by Ben Hines, at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., went viral. Jessica Curry was trying to get her daughter, Parker, to turn around so she could take her picture in front of the portrait of Michelle Obama painted by artist Amy Sherald. But Parker was riveted and would not turn around. Magically, Parker and Jessica, with the help of editor Karen Nagel, illustrator Brittany Jackson and art director Laura DiSiena, have taken this powerful moment of connection and crafted it into a picture book that young readers will connect with, reminding us that representation matters.
One rainy Tuesday, Parker and her little sister Ava are surprised by their mom with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery with her friend Gia and Gia's mom. The three girls explore the galleries, Jackson reimagining the paintings that hang there as "Parker experienced them during her unforgettable and memorable visit to the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum," as back matter, which also includes a list of the paintings recreated, tells readers. Their experience is filled with energy, excitement, joy and engagement. And then . . . "PARKER CURRY LOOKED UP."
A portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama loomed before her. She had rich brown skin, just like Parker, and kind familiar eyes that reminded Parker of . . . her mother, her grandmother, her sister, and yes - even of herself. How could someone look so real and magical all at the same time? Who is she? . . . She is a queen.
This question is answered by Parker's mother, a cloud of descriptive words (like mother, lawyer, writer, hero, volunteer, mentor, friend sister along with superlatives like courageous, smart, inspirational, caring, honest, dynamic and hopeful) filling the two page spread where Parker, her eyes wide, is seen looking up. A page turn with the poignant words, "In that moment, Parker saw more than just a portrait - she saw a road before her with endless possibilities," is accompanied by an illustration of Michelle Obama as seen in the portrait on the verso, images of Parker playing basketball, the violin, as a chef, painter, astronaut, scientist and dancer on the recto, capturing the powerful moment perfectly.
I especially appreciated Amy Sherald's note in the back matter where she shares her childhood experience of seeing a person in a painting who looked like her for the first time. She writes,
Culture determines who counts in society and the reflects the society itself. What Parker observed while looking at the portrait of the First Lady was her own greatness. Without representation of all, there will be stories that are missing. When I studies art history, I observed the absence of images that reflected us as our whole selves. I see it as my responsibility to make sure that little girls and boys can walk into an institution like the Smithsonian and see that there are people who walked before them, who not only looked like them, but whose accomplishments were so great that their legacy has been achieved for all to see.
With these words, Sherald reinforces the importance, the necessity of a picture book like Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment. Representation matters.
Parker, three at the time, dressed
as Michelle Obama for Halloween, 2018
Dress made by