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I am so excited to review John Parra’s first book as an author illustrator, GROWING AN ARTIST, THE STORY OF A LANDSCAPER AND HIS SON! It has everything I usually love in his illustration work: pink skies, lovingly depicted and affectionate family scenes, hidden animals, insects, and airplanes in the sky. But what makes this book so special is that it is Juanito’s story!

“Today is a big day—the first time Juanito gets to help his papi on the job as a landscape architect! Throughout the day, Juanito sketches anything that catches his eye: a nest full of baby birds, a nursery with row upon row of plants and flowers, and more. Father and son travel from house to house, pruning, weeding, mowing, and turning overgrown and chaotic yards into beautiful spaces.“

But when a classmate sees Juanito at work with his father and pretends not to see him, Juanito’s heart sinks. Leaving him feeling awkward and confused.

This moment gives the book an emotional honesty that will be meaningful for so many young readers. The way the book resolves Juanito’s feelings is gentle and realistic. The resolution is inside Juanito, in the beautiful way he sees himself, his family, work, and the world around him, and most importantly… in his art!

Book Pairings and Classroom Ideas

Picture Book Artist Autobiographies: Pair GROWING AN ARTIST with THE ART LESSON and explore the young lives of two award winning picture book author illustrators.

Fathers and Children Exploring the Natural World: Pair with a reading OWL MOON and have students write about their own experiences with the natural world big and small, from daddy long legs in the closet corner to hearing owls at night. Where were they? Who were they with? What new experiences do they dream of having?

The Joy and Beauty of Hard Work: Pair with a reading of SOMEONE BUILDS THE DREAM and make a class list of all the wonderful jobs they know about and how they each make our world beautiful.

Illustrator Study: Can your students find themes and recurring images in John Parra’s work? Have them look for work, family, animals, food, machines, colors… 

Book Giveaway Details

John Parra grew up in Santa Barbara, which is my hometown too, so I especially loved all the Santa Barbara Easter eggs. I recognized the dump (if you’ve never been to the dump with your dad, you are honestly missing out), the train station, the Mission, and lots of familiar streets!  If you can tell me where this picture is in the comments, I’ll send you a signed copy of John’s new book! **Someone identified the mystery Santa Barbara spot on Twitter and has claimed the signed copy!**

If you need a hint, come read my interview with John about his illustrations in GREEN IS A CHILE PEPPER. This is one of our all time favorite places in Santa Barbara and we talk about it in the interview!