Morris the Artist is a compelling book for young readers, combining themes central to every preschooler's life. After all, what five-year-old doesn't love to paint? Or go to birthday parties? Throw in a little greed and you've got yourself a walloping good tale.

From the very first spread, it's easy to see that young Morris is a character. He's holding paints and looking artistic, with a large hat jauntily perched on his head. He and his mom immediately lock horns, as she announces that it's time to buy a birthday present for Morris' friend, Benjamin. Morris says no, he wants to paint instead. Mom replies firmly, as she must several times in the book, "Come along, Morris . . . NOW." The two buy a birthday present, but we don't see what's inside the box. At the party, when it's time to unwrap Morris' gift, he refuses to hand it over. Morris can't even eat his piece of birthday cake because he's too busy gripping the present. He can't play with the other kids because he's still holding on for dear life. Finally, however, the urge to play overcomes Morris' greed, and he releases his hold on the box. The unveiling, as it turns out, is anticlimactic: "It's only paints," the kids complain. Once Morris starts to use them, however, the other children join in, and soon there is paint everywhere, with splatters spread joyfully across the pages. Boris Kulikov's style is intriguingly old-fashioned. His colors are muted by sepia tones, and he has dressed the kids in vintage clothing. The entire book resonates like a modern-day fairy tale the birthday boy's home even resembles a small castle.

A word of caution from one parent to another: Once you read this lively story to your kids, they are definitely going to want to use their paints, so be sure to bring the book out at an opportune time. Furthermore, the party ends with the kids painting on each other . . . Don't say you weren't warned!

Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.

 

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