Book Review: Art and Cultural Awareness in The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna

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The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna, of which I won a copy through Goodreads, is an interpretation of the stories of living religion, one with a long, rich history.  Let it be said that I know and respect that and that I hope I can review this picture book without offense.  Certainly I mean to give none.

When I speak of the text I mean strictly what has been printed on the pages of this book and not the tradition of which it is an interpretation.

For once, I am here perhaps more qualified to speak of the illustrations than of the text.  In high school, AP Art History kicked my butt, and I kicked and bit Art History back till we were both black and blue but I held up my high score.  We parted enemies, but several years later on a crowded train platform, we’re cordial to one another.  I might even smile at Art History, and we might take a moment to reminisce.  My independent project was a brief history of Indian art.  The illustrations of The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna are more than drawings for a children’s book; they are iconic depictions of the story of the Hindu god Krishna.

Below, for example, are several examples of illustrations of Krishna consuming the wildfire.  The first is Demi’s illustration.  The others are examples from c. 1750-1959.  Demi’s illustrations are clearly influenced by the Kangra school, though her bright colors and less detailed renderings reflect both her intended audience (children) and modern styles of children’s book illustration.

agni1

agni2(clockwise: Demi, Pahari, Guler. Circa late 18th century, Chamba, India c. 1750, Bashol school, 1959Basholi, India, 18th century)

In fact, at least some of Demi’s illustrations are reinterpretations of older Pahari illustrations, such as can be seen here where the first is Demi’s (detail), and on the left is an illustration attributed to the artist Manaku from c. 1750-1755:

playing

If Demi has simplified the illustrations to cater to her young audience, she has reflected the Kangra intricacy in her frames (an example of which can be seen on her illustation of Krishna and the wildfire).

Demi’s pages are touched by gold paint that heightens their iconic feel and also made for a pleasant surprise upon opening the book for the first time.

The images that she paints both with her illustrations and with the text is of an endearing child, sweet, playful, mischievous, and reckless bold in the face of danger to his friends.  Krishna (and here I speak of the character and not the god) is a relatable figure to Demi’s young audience.

Apart from loving mythology of many cultures and the intricate art of India, I think it important to raise globally aware children.  Demi’s is a book that can be enjoyed by children of any culture.  I would be interested to read this book to young children.  I wonder how they would respond.  Certainly I think most children would wonder about Krishna’s blue skin.  I don’t honestly know the proper response to that, other than it is an artistic shorthand, like Moses’ horns or the accompanying animals of the four Christian gospel writers.  At my age too, Demi’s is a book to inspire conversation with a different culture.

****

Demi.  The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna.  Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Demi or Wisdom Tales Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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