Magic Trash by J. H. Shapiro

Lynn: Polka-dot houses, broken dolls hanging from telephone poles, old shoes in trees  – for 25 years Tyree Guyton has created controversial art in a special place.  Magic Trash:  A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art (Charlesbridge 2011) is an exuberant celebration of Guyton’s Heidelberg Project in East Side Detroit.

Tyree’s mother worked hard to support her ten children but there wasn’t money for toys, so Tyree picked up trash and “zapped fun into junk that others threw away.”  Encouraged by his grandfather to “paint the world.”  Tyree did just that.  Rioters burned his neighborhood when he was 12 and at 16 he left home to work and finally to attend art school before going home to Heidelberg Street.  Deserted tumbledown houses, trash and troublemakers greeted him.   Tyree was determined to save his street and helped by his grandfather, he grabbed his paintbrush and headed out.  Soon the neighbors were helping as Tyree created art out of the world around him.  Not everyone agreed that what he did was art and the city twice bulldozed houses on the street.  It took a court order finally to to save the street and Tyree has been going strong ever since.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s mixed media art is a delight and captures the spirit of Guyton’s work – turning everyday junk into amazing creations.  This inspiring book is a guaranteed discussion-starter and one that would be ideal to use with secondary art students as well as the picture book set.  The focus group loved it and were inspired to create their own trash-can art.  A very nice author’s note completes this book along with a short bibliography.

Cindy: Wow. I’ve read about the Heidelberg Project in our local papers over the years, but I’m delighted to see this picture book biography of  Tyree Guyton. I agree with Lynn that this book will work with a wide range of ages. The website includes a “Just for Kids” section that has teaching materials, and videos and photos of student work based on the Heidelberg Project. I enjoyed the video showing the work of 1st graders who drew their own homes and then decorated them with paint and other found objects in the style of Guyton’s work. Fabulous. And, to ask middle or high schoolers to look at the photos of the neighborhood and discuss “what is art?” “how to save urban neighborhoods” or “whether art is a ‘real’ job as Tyree’s mother argued.”

Use this book along with Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone to compare the art and life experiences of two artists who grew up under different circumstances, but have similar passions.

This week’s Nonfiction Monday blog roundup is hosted by Gathering Books. Check it out.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "Magic Trash by J. H. Shapiro"

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  1. I love picture book biographies on artists, musicians, great thinkers. I would definitely add this to my list of books-to-read on PB biographies – I’m sure the illustrations would be luscious too. Thank you for sharing this and participating in this week’s Nonfiction Monday.

  2. tflander@ucalgary.ca' Tammy Flanders says:

    Wow. This sounds great. I haven’t heard about the Heidelberg Project. I hope to learn more. Great way to open the discussion about what is art and social issues, too.
    Thanks for the recommendation.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seeds

  3. lindseymbentley@gmail.com' Lindsey says:

    I LOVE the recommendation for discussion on what constitutes art. I am a preschool teacher and we are working on developing creativity and independence, I want my students to feel confident in their own creations. Thank you!

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