Stone Giant by Jane Sutcliffe

stone giantLynn:  The giant lay in the courtyard of the Cathedral for 40 years.  It had been hammered on, had a large hole chiseled in it and the weather had scoured it.  And then Michelangelo’s friends wrote him a letter begging him to come home and take on the giant.  This is the wonderful true story told in Stone Giant:  Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be (Charlesbridge 2014).  Sutcliffe tells this remarkable story with just the right touch of wonder.  You can hear the “wow” behind the words.  She weaves just enough historical information and technical facts into the story to help kids understand the scale and difficulty of Michelangelo’s task.  John Shelley’s terrific illustrations are the perfect partner for the text as here too is both the wonder and the historical story presented in such kid-friendly way.  Shelley presents the city of Florence and its citizens in bright busy scenes, bustling with activity and humor.  Each page is filled with charming details:  here a scene of gossiping townspeople, there Michelangelo combing the stone dust out of his beard.  In stark contrast to the everyday scenes though are truly stunning classical drawings of the work itself.  The David is shown in all its astonishing beauty.  I love how Shelley has worked in Michelangelo’s sketches, and Renaissance decorative drawings.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Florence and see the David and its copy and I loved how wonderfully Shelley captured the beautiful city of Florence with its glimpses of the Cathedral dome through the narrow streets and the sheer breath-taking beauty of the David.  This is a book I shared with our older focus group and they loved it, each spending a lot time reading it and examining the illustrations and I’ve noticed them picking it up again and again from my work shelf.  A wonderful Author’s Note explains what happened to the statue in the subsequent centuries and an extensive bibliography of adult sources has me itching to read more.

Cindy: I hope that art teachers in schools are able to get their hands on the new picture book biographies and nonfiction titles that would be great additions to their classes. We’ve blogged about many of them with the tag “Art teachers take notice” that can be searched in the left column of our posts. Stone Giant is another such gem. Sutcliffe has chiseled out a great story, but John Shelley’s illustrations are delightful as well. The juxtaposition of the serious, focused marble statue of David against the colorful and slightly comic and busy scenes surrounding it is fabulous. Young artists will find many details in the pages to interest them from small panels of action American Horsesequences to full page spreads where the grandeur of art is fully realized. Earlier this week I walked our local treasure, the Frederik Meijer Garden Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids and stood in awe of many fine works, including The American Horse, a 24-foot tall horse sculpture by Nina Akamu, based on Leonardo da Vinci’s earlier work that had been destroyed nearly 500 years before. David is not the only stone giant in town, and not the only one that had difficulty coming to life. The da Vinci horse story, linked above, and available in Jean Fritz’s book Leonardo’s Horse (Putnam 2001) has many connections to David’s story.  Art teachers, take note!

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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.

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