Diego Rivera by Susan Goldman Rubin
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: The lives of artists are often a challenge to write about for children and none more so than Diego Rivera. Controversial in almost all aspects of his life, Diego Rivera was also a towering figure in the art world (and in stature) and his work remains incredibly powerful today. Susan Goldman Rubin’s new book, Diego Rivera: an Artist for the People (Abrams 2013) presents a clear and fully-dimensional picture while remaining age-appropriate. Rivera and his work are introduced in the context of both the politics and art of his time, aiding young readers to better understand Rivera’s evolving style and dramatic impact. Rubin highlights Rivera’s pivotal role in bringing world attention and respect to Pre-Columbian art and on his admirable focus on creating art for and about common people.
Accessible and clear, Rubin’s text is engaging and absorbing, wonderfully researched and provides a real sense of this amazing artist as a real person. This is a beautifully designed book too. I’ll leave most of that discussion to Cindy but the reproductions of Rivera’s art are outstanding, crisp and colorful and wonderfully placed. This book is a pleasure to read, hold and study.
I remember clearly my first encounter with Rivera’s work. My family visited the Detroit Institute of Art when I was around 10 and the impact of those murals remains with me today. I haven’t shared this yet with the focus group but that is up next as well as a summer trip to DIA! This is a must-purchase for biography and art sections and fits the definition of literary nonfiction perfectly.
Cindy: Lynn is right that this book is gorgeous. I loathe artist biographies with black and white illustrations (like a Frida Kahlo biography in my middle school library collection that I just consulted) but this is filled with color, spacious design, full page art reproductions and decorative page borders. Personal photographs, charcoal sketches of works in progress, and photographs of many of Rivera’s mural installations round out the clear and interesting text. Following 41 pages of biography, the book concludes with 15 pages of end matter! First up is a 3-page history of Mexico related to Rivera’s art followed by two pages of artistic influences on Rivera’s work. The last pages have a list of places to view his art, a glossary, sources notes, a bibliography, art credits, and an index. Kudos to Maria T. Middleton for the gorgeous jacket design. I’ve never mentioned that in a blog post before, but this book is just a treat to hold from beginning to end. Well done, Abrams!
Common Core Connection:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Share pages 26-35 with students and then have them do some further research and write an argument supporting their opinion about one of the two murals in this section:
1. Detroit Institute of Arts Garden Court Mural. Was the mural an appropriate respresentation of Detroit or was it “foolishly vulgar” and “un-American” as the Detroit News editorial indicated?
2. Rockefeller Center RCA office building mural. Was Nelson Rockefeller, who commissioned the mural, right to censor the mural for its inclusion of Vladimir Lenin that had not been in the original approved sketch? Consider the theme of the mural and the time (1933) in which the mural was being painted.