Art High, Low, and In Between

Anonymouse – written by Vikki VanSickle, illustrated by Anna Pirolli
Tundra Books, 2021

The play on words may seem obvious, but the book is not.  The fleeting creature who brings beauty and joy to everyone, creating in improbable places, illustrates for kids how art can pop up anywhere.  Less about the artistic process than about the unexpected nature of creativity (Tundra Books seems to specialize in such themes–see here and here), Vikki VanSickle and Anna Pirolli’s new book emphasizes how, once it is here, we come to depend on these surprising appearances to enrich our lives. There is a minimalist simplicity to the book, as if the author and artist assume that kids will understand their message. 

Of course, adults will also relate to a “tired city rat” who, on his commute home, encounters a gorgeous stripe of shocking pink in his habitually dull tunnel. Soon, everyone is involved in this wonderfully enhanced environment, where bats, birds, and even ants can view brightly colored pictures from every perspective.

The tiny insects lined up behind a bicycle wheel are laboring to carry their food; now they are treated to one of their species appearing to hold up the globe itself. That’s empowering!  If you remember as a child, or a not very tall person, having a blocked view of a painting in a museum, here is your answer.  A great artist makes her work accessible. 

One day, the works of art stop. They don’t disappear, but the sequence of pictures which all the animals had come to expect is gone: “There hadn’t been anything new from Anonymouse in a long time.”  In an incredibly touching image of sadness, Pirolli paints a rabbit sitting in the rain, presumably waiting for the absent genius to show up again. Next to him is a Magritte-like profile of a man holding an umbrella.  Is he the last of Anonymouse’s work, a sign that the artist has retired?

The following scene has no pink; it is a primarily sepia and dark blue city bustling with activity, urban vehicles moving back-and-forth in front of a tall ship. Now it becomes clear that people, unlike animals, are unable to appreciate the gift they had been receiving. It is the animals who “missed Anonymouse’s perspective,” and who are fearful because “the city can be dangerous” for them. 

Even though the tone is a bit elegiac, children will feel uplifted. After all, the animals know that art lasts forever.  Their lives have been changed.  And some small footprints promise the return of their favorite artist, one whose canvas is universal.

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