Emily Arrow has built a career for herself promoting literacy and children’s books through music. Arrow, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, but once made her home in Nashville, has an average of 800,000 views per year on her YouTube channel, where she shares original songs based on picture books. Armed with a warm, wide smile, seemingly endless good cheer, and her ukulele Bow (that’s Bow and Arrow, if you’re quick about it), she earnestly entertains her pint-sized fans and their grateful parents.
There is, refreshingly, no irony to speak of in Arrow’s performance and no jaded, world-weary winking over the heads of the children she invites to sing with her. She genuinely enjoys singing to children, and they love her for it. That’s why her many fans will be happy to hear that she’s written her own children’s picture book, Studio: A Place for Art to Start.
Studio is Arrow’s picture book debut, though she’s previously written a how-to guide for children on playing the ukulele. It’s also the children’s book debut for the husband-and-wife illustration team of JW and Melissa Buchanan, who make their home in Los Angeles and are known professionally as The Little Friends of Printmaking.
Arrow has written Studio in a simple, jaunty rhyme, much like her catchy, upbeat songs: “We call a place a studio / When we’re creating in it / Or practicing, or editing / Or thinking for a minute.” The story — with opening endpapers that feature illustrations of a wide array of artists’ tools, from a screwdriver to a film strip — centers on a young rabbit, accompanied by an adult caretaker, who explores various creative studios in the large collective space known as Uptown Art Studios, meeting artists in all kinds of settings. These are all wide-eyed anthropomorphized creatures — from a duck working with clay, to a dog on an electric guitar, to a bespectacled giraffe sketching a fruit bowl. A friendly cat with a large ring of keys guides the rabbit duo on this studio tour.
The curious rabbit visits everything from more formal shared artist studios to “tiny nook” studios and lots of other art-making spaces in between. Artists in a range of disciplines show off their work spaces: visual artists, sculptors, animators, photographers, tailors, artists creating large art installations, actors, musicians, and more. Arrow emphasizes that these are places to “build and dream and move” and that they can even be places merely “for art to start.” Studios, she writes, are for thinking, creating, editing, collaborating, practicing, and playing with ideas — or even just playing. Studios are where inspiration can be found.
With equal emphasis on both creative conception and artistic production, she encourages readers to brainstorm and listen to their “inner voice and find your special place.” At the story’s close, the young rabbit is rewarded with a spacious, empty studio of its own, a place to spread out and create. On the next spread, parent and child have furnished the studio and are hard at work, prepping the tools needed to make art.
Studio’s sleek, crisp illustrations feature a dynamic palette of primarily rose, mustard, and turquoise hues, and the heavy black lines delineating each character go far in accentuating their presence on the page. This use of a thick black line keeps compositions from being too cluttered or visually wearying because there’s a lot going on here and, at every turn, there are busy artists hard at work. Observant readers will enjoy following a tiny ladybug on each spread, perhaps looking for its own place to create.
This sunny, good-natured look at the spaces where art is made gives readers a broad, extensive definition of “studio” and stresses the importance of maker spaces for artists of all stripes, furry or otherwise. Arrow’s fans will be happy to take the journey with her.
Julie Danielson, co-author of Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, and The Horn Book. She lives in Murfreesboro and blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
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