In Candace Fleming’s new picture book, readers see events from Joey Cornell’s life before he grew up to become a famous artist known for his boxed assemblages of found objects. He was enamored with small curios and stowed collections in his bedroom, his rule of thumb being: “If I like it, I keep it.” Fleming stays in Cornell’s early years, making this less of a biography and more of a boyhood snapshot.
When Cornell was 13, his father died; Cornell watched the traumatic scene from his bedroom window as the ambulance took his father away. In this harrowing spread, illustrator DuBois puts a vivid, blood red to striking use in the blanket on Cornell’s bed. In an effort to cheer his mourning family, Cornell invited them to the barn where he had assembled his first art show. In highlighting these key events, Fleming makes this a story about an act of kindness to comfort a grieving family, and more about an artist’s motivation than about the artwork itself.
Fleming’s tone is reverent and her pacing is impeccable. The first part of the text moves in two-year jumps as she shows readers what objects Cornell had collected by the ages of 8, 9, 11 and 13. What DuBois can do with light and shadow is mesmerizing, and in many spreads, Joey looks doll-like (whether purposeful or not), as if he’s an object in his own collection. Unfortunately, an author’s note that closes the book has images of Cornell’s later assemblages that are so small that they are difficult to see. But pair The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell with Allen Say’s Silent Days, Silent Dreams for the remarkable stories of two similarly untrained artists with singular visions.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.