Draw!

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Draw! Book Poster Image
Wildly imaginative wordless book celebrates art and drawing.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Draw! can spur language development, inspiring kids to talk about what they see. There are lots of implicit lessons about art -- observing subjects, finding the best vantage point, capturing movement, and so on. And the overarching moral about reading and art is accomplished in a way that's implicit and enjoyable and not at all preachy. The animals pictured are accurate renderings of real African animals and aren't anthropomorphic.

Positive Messages

Art and literature can take you to another world. When you're sick, you can find fun, engaging things to do even if you have to stay in bed. People can get to know animals by observing them, and humans and animals can bond.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The boy is a wonderful role model. When confined to bed, he reads a book on Africa, which inspires him to work in his sketchbook. His imagination is so powerful that it transports him to the African savannah, where he meets and has encounters with all the animals he's been reading about. He models an adventurous spirit as well as ingenuity, when he has to find safer places from which to sketch certain animals. He's a kind and loving friend and is shown tenderly embracing the elephant.

Violence & Scariness

There's a full-page spread in which a rhino is chasing the boy and gaining on him. Older children will understand that the boy will escape.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Draw! is a wordless picture book by noted illustrator Raúl Colón (Baseball Is…) that celebrates art and is itself wildly artful. Draw! opens with a young boy reading a book about Africa. When he starts sketching the animals from the book, he's transported to the African savannah, where he sets up his easel and draws the animals he's now actually encountering. Though Draw! is wordless, there's a clear story line and a dramatic arc that readers can discover through a close reading of the pictures. The implicit message is that art is fun and exciting. And, though all readers will be able to identify with this appealing protagonist, he appears to be a portrait of the artist as a young boy, which means that Colón has added a welcome new Latino character to our shelves.

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What's the story?

A young boy confined to bed with a temporary illness (a bottle of medicine and an inhaler are pictured at his bedside) is reading a book about Africa. He starts a series of drawings in which he's hiking across a savannah, easel in tow. But, when we turn the page, he's in Africa, setting up the easel to sketch an actual elephant. He works on some studies of zebras and stampeding giraffes and then perches in a tree to sketch a pride of lions. A charging rhino provides a dramatic, full-spread chase scene, and there are monkeyshines with gorillas and baboons: The gorilla nabs his sandwich, and the baboons take the easel and draw the boy. After a tender and touching good-bye to the elephant, another series of pictures records the boy's journey out of the plains and back to bed, where the telltale pages of African artwork are now strewn across the floor. On the last page, the boy is at school, proudly sharing his animal portraits with his class.

Is it any good?

This book has a wonderfully positive message: A young boy is so inspired by the book he's reading that he takes himself on an African safari just by drawing the animals in the book. The depth is in the details. Though the book is wordless, there's a story with a clear dramatic arc, and kids can inspect the art closely to "read" it. The page that shows his tender parting good-bye to the elephant speaks volumes.

Draw! also contributes to our canon of diverse children's books. In an author's note, Colón describes his childhood interest in art growing up in New York City and Puerto Rico, and the protagonist looks as if he could be Colón as a young boy. But all children can identify with this imaginative and adventurous young artist and take its directive -- draw! -- to heart.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about wordless books. How can you follow a story without words? Do you notice the art more than you would if there were words and pictures? 

  • Talk about all the detail in the pictures -- what do you notice? 

  • Try drawing something that's moving. How does the author capture movement in his illustrations?

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