Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Crocodile’s True Colors

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The Crocodile’s True Colors

Written by and illustrated by Eva Montanari

Publishers : Watson Guptil, Sept 2002

Ages 4-8

Themes : art, expressionism, cubism, futurism, abstractionism, dadaism, perception of danger (not always what it seems), African Animals

Opening and Synopsis “In the grassy fields of Africa, there is a school where young animals learn to read and write, to make music and art.” 

Montanari uses a classroom of African animals and Master Elephant’s portrait lesson on the feared crocodile, to teach both various artistic forms, and the truth that there are many ways to see things, even our enemies. This is no mean feat, to teach so much in one short picture book!

These young savannah animals all think they know about the dangerous croc that lurks in the nearby river. One by one they paint the croc, their way.  I don’t want to give too much away as this is a very clever and subtle story, but let me give you an example. The animals laugh at little giraffe’s painting, which appears to be just crazy splots and dots.

‘Little Giraffe has painted shapes and colors that aren’t supposed to look like the real Crocodile,” says Master Elephant. “They are meant to show a feeling about him. In painting, this is called Abstractionism.”

Why do I like this book? I think all children should be immersed in, and exposed to, all forms of the creative arts, and I am impressed how in this book, using very simple terms, Montanari illustrates and describes: Expressionism, Cubism, Abstractionism, Futurism and Dada in a way that most five year olds will grasp! Children will also enjoy discovering that the ‘dreaded’ Croc may not be as dreaded as they first believed, and it is Little Croc himself, who has the last say about his true colors. I found the art whimsical and appealing and think this would be a great addition to any primary art curriculum.

Activities: Art gallery visits for older children. Painting (especially portraits) and reproducing each of these art forms in the home or classroom. Top Ten Online Art Museums for Kids. 

This is Part of Perfect Picture Book Friday, a series for parents and teachers hosted by Susanna Hill.

P.S. Just a reminder for anyone who missed the sign up yesterday, Mother Reader is hosting another Five Comments a Day for Twenty Days challenge, to help us in meeting new bloggers in the kidlitospehre. Sign up here.
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46 Responses to Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Crocodile’s True Colors

  1. Susanna says:

    This sounds truly delightful, Joanna. I can’t wait to read it. I’m ashamed to admit that I know embarrassingly little about art. If this books makes it accessible to 5 year olds, then I think it is a book I should read! 🙂 It sounds like a great addition to our growing list. Thanks so much!

  2. Great post! I want to get it (A LOT)! I really like art and don’t know of too many books for kids about it. Poor Giraffe… 🙁

  3. Joanna says:

    They all tease each other a bit about their art work, Erik, but it isn’t mean and each time, the teacher shows want each student intended. 🙂

  4. Oooooh, nice selection. I love art and what a creative way to present it to children. I think it is important to teach young children more about art. Normally the forms of art in the book are taught in high school — if schools have art programs. This is such a beautiful book with a fun animal story. Great for home schooling.

  5. This book sounds wonderful, Joanna! A must-read for sure. And I love that even with a book about art, you’ve managed to remain “true to your ruling passion” — thank you!

    • Joanna says:

      Yes, Beth, I love that it is a group of African animals learning the difference between cubism and dada!!

      One awesome thing about living in France is their focus on culture and art. So often instead of a silly car advert there will be a five minute clip about a famous painting or art form! Love it!

  6. This sounds like a good layering one, that adults enjoy as much as children. I love art and my mum would love this one since she has been on safari and she is an artist.

  7. Natalie says:

    Wow! What a multi-layered book! I always try to make a conscience effort to expose my children to the arts, but feel that I often fall short. This will be an excellent title to serve that purpose. And I am with Susanna–I could use a refresher myself! 🙂

    • Joanna says:

      I loved the refresher myself, Natalie. There are some awesome artists’ biographies out there too in picture book format.

  8. What a fantastic find! I LOVE LOVE LOVE PBs with an artistic bent. As I wrote over on Beth’s blog, my little boys are in for a life of arts, crafts, music, theatre…I hope they just go with the flow, hehe. The cover art on this is so lovely. I’m definitely getting this one. Thanks!

  9. Joanna says:

    Oh, I hope your boys enjoy this one, Renée.

  10. clarbojahn says:

    What a great selection this is. Seems like all of today’s finds are teaching a lesson except mine. Because I am writing a picture book with a lesson and don’t want to seem preachy this is even more of a *Must read* book for me.

    I like Montanari’s style of restating the intentions of each artist and leaving their self esteem intact.

  11. Joanna says:

    Clar, it captures a typical classroom teasing situation where the teacher deflates the tension well and then reinforces pride in a student.

  12. Joanna, this is a wonderful selection! I can’t find it in any of our district libraries and I don’t recognize the name of the publisher-I’ll have to check Amazon for it. I know my art teacher would love it!

    • Joanna says:

      This was actually first published in Italian, the author’s mother tongue. You can definitely purchase it from Amazon, though I noticed the couple of reviews weren’t great there.

  13. This sounds like a fun, yet educational book. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Beth says:

    After reading this, I think Kevin Bacon’s The BEAST would work well in a unit with this book. It’s a consistent, dramatic art style that also echos the idea that dangers aren’t always what the seem. Kids could examine both the theme and the art.

    • Joanna says:

      Beth, I don’t know The Beast. I hope it is in our library *crosses fingers*. Great additional suggestion and activity. Thank you.

  15. Hi Joanna,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on my PPBF entry, The Kissing Hand.
    I absolutely LOVE your selection…and will keep it in mind for my school and library programs…I’m always looking for books that help children understand life’s challenges. I’m thrilled to be connecting with Susannah…and through her, you! I’ll be back to read more of your musings. 🙂

    • Joanna says:

      Vivian, great to connect with other writers and lovers of picture books! Looking forward to your further contributions very much. Little Croc really has the last say in this story, and is not as scary as they all first thought!

  16. I’m intrigued by this as I want to introduce my son to safari themes and know nothing about art. It might teach me a thing or two!

  17. Yes. We LOVE Starry Safari. He’s been sorting (throwing) around several of the library books I got yesterday including the And Tango Makes Three!

  18. Joanna says:

    So glad you know this one already! I see Enzo is learning to ‘love on’ those books! Hope he enjoys Tango and her two dads!

  19. Mary says:

    This looks fantastic! I’m always looking for new books with a connection to Africa (my son is from Ethiopia). Looks like we’ll be adding this one to our library reserves. 🙂

    • Joanna says:

      Mary, so glad you dropped by. I have lived in several nations in Africa and plan on reviewing more books from this wonderful continent over the coming months.

  20. Loved this review Joanna. I love art and, as you know, anything to do with animals. As I read, I am thinking I will look this one up when I trott off to my local library later.
    (Here there are a lot of books focused on nature, animals and arts and history)

  21. Zoe says:

    Sounds great. Whilst I’m not Montanari’s biggest ever fan, I’m always intrigued by her illustrations. The book made me think of this book:

    • Joanna says:

      Zoe, I do think her real strength is as an artist! I love your recommendation, especially as I am always on the look out for books from other cultures. It will go on a list as I am pretty sure it won’t be in our school library, or I would know it!

  22. This sounds like a charming book indeed. I am an art lover and a great believer that children should be exposed to artistic concepts early. Your review really piqued my interest.

  23. wow, this is a super book to have for children. I never knew there was a picture book for children introducing them to the subtlety of art. excellent. I will keep this in mind, as I have another blog where i cover arts for adults and kids called
    thanks for dropping by. About charlotte’s web, wow, did it make you cry? well maybe i will read it then although i have plenty to read already…

    • Joanna says:

      Not only did Charlotte’s Web make me cry, but no one pre warned me and I had taken it along to a PE lesson I had to accompany with younger students and they kept looking over from their soccer match to see me sobbing on the bench!

  24. sounds intriguing. will need to check it out. Thanks!

  25. This book makes me think of David Wiesner’s book, Art and Max. I agree children need to be exposed to art appreciation. Thanks for posting it. I’ll have to keep an eye out on it. I also loved how you provided an activity idea to go with the book.
    It’s important to help children find ways to make a book come alive. I’m thinking about participating in the Picture Book Friday, too.

    I’m also taking part in the 5 comment challenge and the Twelve books in twelve months challenge as well. This is going to be a fun year!

    • Joanna says:

      Jackie, yes, there is a resemblance to Art and Max. I so hope you join us in the Perfect Picture Book Friday… we’d love to have you. I see we are connecting across the kidlitosphere in many ways – super!

  26. Yes! Art and Max also came to mind! We are planning on having an arts-inspired-theme sometime soon, I was just thinking that I should bookmark this post of yours to remind myself of this title – I am sure that this would be a perfect book to include in that theme.

    • Joanna says:

      Oh, I do look forward to that series…. if you do, I did a review a while back on Pigasso meets Mootisse, which I just love! I may revamp it for Picture Book Fridays

    • Joanna says:

      Oh, I look forward to that, and if you do, I did a review a while back on When Pigasso met Mootisse, which I just love. I may revamp it for Perfect Picture Book Fridays!

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