I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the People

Holiday House. Nov. 2023. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823450060.
K-Gr 4–If children today could imagine a 20th-century Dickensian character who taught himself to read, went to reform school for a few years, and performed back-breaking labors until he was in his 30s, they’d come close to understanding Ralph Fasanella’s story. That’s when he taught himself to paint, and with the support of family members, that’s how he spent the rest of his days. That his works ended up in union halls, the Smithsonian, and other exalted galleries was almost a problem for him; he believed his art, about working people, unacceptable wages, crowded working conditions, and other social justice issues he’d been aware of since childhood, was meant to be viewed by people like him. The storytelling, though dense, is compelling and breezy; Tentler-Krylov’s illustrations bind this work to Fasanella’s, taking from his art the vivacious colors, detail work, and a sense of city scenes that are worth revisiting again and again. Among the back matter are not only further reading, bibliography, time line, and source notes, but also several of Fasanella’s vibrant, intricately detailed paintings. Despite the brightest of colors, every one of them includes a social statement, something Fasanella believed could not be separated from art.
VERDICT For readers ready to be plunked into the underbelly of the 20th century and then uplifted by one painter’s take on its myriad social issues and politics, this is a grand start; this book could be the linchpin for an upper elementary or even middle school class on the rise of labor unions, factory reforms, and other important movements that have not yet disappeared and may rise again.

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