And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth's World, written by Beth Kephart, illustrated by Amy June Bates

And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth's World

written by Beth Kephart, illustrated by Amy June Bates

Review Copy from Abrams Kids / Cameron Kids

More than a traditional biography, And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth's World is a day in the life of a a young artist and her painter father who is also her first teacher. Without any knowledge of N.C. Wyeth and his talented progeny, even without any interest in art, And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth's World is an enchanting story of a father and a daughter sharing an experience together. For readers interested in art, painting and the creative process, And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth's World is a gem of a picture book. Kephart and Bates have created a deeply immersive book that is allows readers to subtly experience of the act of creating. Or, to be more precise, the act of seeing. 

In her sure voice, Henriette tells readers, "Wherever in our world we want to go, we go - Pa and me." Bates captures this confidence superbly in her depictions of N.C. and Henriette. With Wyeth's sturdy, wide, bespectacled face peering out from under an even wider hat and his daughter, her mane of long, brown hair flowing trailing behind her like a superhero's cape, they are an unforgettable, indomitable pair. Canvases, easels and paints tucked under their arms, Henriette and her father head out, passing her siblings as they go, aware of and attentive to the natural beauty around them. Bates does a superb job capturing but not imitating Wyeth's style in her illustrations, especially the landscapes. Reaching their destination, Henriette asserts, "It's just us, our world, and we paint it," the conviction in her words resonating from the illustration of the pair standing assuredly in front of their blank canvases. 

Henriette goes on to describe this world and the potential subjects of their paintings: the "puff of a train over the clatter of a track," the "green growing into the cap of a strawberry," and the "bright zipper of the blackbirds." Each verbal vignette is accompanied by a colorful pencil sketch, some more complete than others, on a crisp, white background, evocative of a sketchbook. This works to bring more of the text into the illustrations while also serving as a way to show readers the practice and preparation that is part of the creative process. Telling her it's time to head home, Henriette tells her father "no," and continues to paint. And I Paint It closes with Henriette retrieving a treasure from a "favorite secret hiding place," her painting of it resting on an easel nearby.
In her author's note, Kephart shares her discovery of Henriette Wyeth Hurd while reading the letters of N.C. Wyeth. His descriptions of Henriette and his time teaching her inspired Kephart to learn more about her, incorporating words from Henriette's writing and Wyeth's into the text of her story of an imagined day. Bates's illustrator's note shares her own experience of growing up in a family of artists, writing, "For me, this book was a combination of past and present, homage and memory, but mostly getting outside and letting nature inspire.

A photograph of (adult) Henriette painting en plein air, her painting, Floral Still Life, and a quote worth remembering:

"The great and exciting thing about something beautiful is that it's almost gone before you realize it. I have realized beauty and I've been with it."  - Henriette Wyeth Hurd, The Artifice of Blue Light.

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