Readers learn the backstory behind painter Grant Wood’s most famous work in an account that movingly recounts his growth as an artist. Crisp, direct narration follows Wood from his home in Iowa to Europe, where he studied impressionism, cubism, and abstract art before being drawn to the gothic art movement. MacDonald’s illustrations are, as usual, a celebration of America’s yesteryears, and are ideally suited to the rural, regional focus that Wood brought to his art: “The weathered people in Grant’s painting were survivors,” writes Wood of American Gothic, “just as Depression-era Americans hoped to be.” An extensive author’s note and timeline bring additional depth to an inspiring study of an artist who learned to find beauty, truth, and inspiration in the people and landscape of his home.—Publishers Weekly, starred review

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A breezy tour of the white Midwestern artist’s life first shows him drawing with charred sticks on brown wrapping paper (since his family didn’t have much money). Later, he drew in crayon, made scenery for school plays and publications, and won art awards. As a young adult, he traveled to Europe, and three double-page spreads show him creating impressionist, cubist, and abstract paintings just like those of Monet, Picasso, and Mondrian, though it’s unclear from text and illustrations if he did imitations or simply experimented with different styles. (The page on abstract artists shows a Mondrian knockoff on Wood’s easel.) But traveling in Germany, he realized he most appreciated the realistic portraits of the Gothic period—Hans Memling’s and Jan van Eyck’s, in particular. Wood went home to Iowa and got to work creating art based on the real people and places of his region. Using his sister and his dentist as models, he created his most famous work, American Gothic, shown at the Chicago Art Institute in 1930. Young readers are treated to a crash course in modern art while witnessing Wood’s evolution as an artist. A sunny palette of yellows, greens, and browns is perfect for Wood’s regionalist art and the inspirational tone of the volume.

A fine, accessible introduction to Wood’s art. (author’s note, sources, timeline) (Picture book/biography. 7-12)—Kirkus

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An introduction to the artist, the movement, and the famous painting, this book illuminates and exalts the U.S. artist who followed his heart and drew what he knew best...Designed to be read aloud and enjoyed by all ages.— School Library Journal

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Here middle-grade readers meet a twentieth-century Iowan, Grant Wood, who knows he wants to paint, knows what he wants to paint (other Iowans), knows where to learn to paint (Paris, obviously), but just can’t reconcile the painterly styles then in vogue—Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Art—with his subject matter. Hazy views of French cathedrals, faces parsed into multiple planes, colored geometric forms had little to do with the bib overalls, rolling farmland, and framed houses that consumed his interest, and even less to do with the economic challenges of the Great Depression holding sway over America’s economy. A gothic arched window in an Iowa farmhouse, however, caught Wood’s attention, connecting his European experience with American reality, and inspired what would become not only his signature painting but also a seminal work of the American Regionalist school, American Gothic. 

Susan Wood addresses head-on some of the debates and myths surrounding the cryptic figures of the iconic pitchfork and its dour owners, and she selects several other paintings for viewing and discussion which explore Wood’s participation in the homegrown art movement he helped to found. MacDonald is an ideal choice for illustrator, with his signature retro style and saturated colors that recall early Disney animation and Little Golden Books, which intersected the Regionalist era. An author’s note, timeline, list of sources, reproductions of several Wood’s paintings, and a large photograph of Wood posing in his studio are also included.—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books