A Fabulous Story

Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol
Written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
(Henry Holt and Compan, New York, 2012, $16.99)

Many link Andy Warhol with “fifteen minutes of fame,” experimental film, celebrity parties, and The Velvet Underground – hardly the stuff of children’s books. However, in Fabulous!, author-illustrator Bonnie Christensen illuminates another side of the artist. The picture-book biography explores how a reflective, bullied little boy became a soft-spoken, hardworking man. She begins with his sickly,  often lonely childhood in working-classPittsburgh, traces his development as an art student and commercial illustrator, and concludes with the height of his popularity in 1960s New York City.

Christensen relates Warhol’s story in short, chapter-like segments with titles such as Art, The “Cockroach” Period, and Campbell’s Soup Cans. This format, along with her deceptively simple, often conversational prose, suits the artist’s style. At times, Fabulous! takes a cinematic approach to its subject. For example, Christensen employs present tense when she describes Warhol’s triumph in the 60s, thus applying a close-up to this period of his life. Christensen’s illustrations introduce young readers to Warhol’s work: some of his most famous paintings occupy the cover, the dust jacket, and the background of some spreads. Other spreads include the celebrity magazines, stained glass windows, cats, and food packaging that inspired him as a child and young adult.

In many ways, Fabulous! is a rags to riches tale: a shy, poor kid with blotchy skin finds fame and fortune in the big city. Today, given our new awareness of bullying and our cult of celebrity, Warhol’s biography seems especially relevant to kids, parents, and educators. But what makes his story remarkable is that Warhol achieved popularity and success without conforming to others’ expectations. He remained himself – and soared.

Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

 

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