- Jessica Farrow
How would you draw the warmth of the sun on your face? Would you draw the sun, high in the sky, lighting up your upturned face? Most people would. But not Niko. Niko isn’t interested in drawing the sun. He’s not trying to show a person. He wants to draw the warmth.
In Niko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka, Niko is a young boy trying to show his world - the warmth of the sun, the ring-a-ling of an ice cream truck, the hard work a bird puts into building her nest - through abstract art. With his drawings, he tries to capture the feelings and emotions behind everyday life. The people around him, though, are only looking for concrete objects. Niko’s emotions just look like colorful scribbles. No matter how hard they try, they can’t feel what he feels, leaving Niko brokenhearted, alone, and misunderstood.
Then, Iris moves in next door. She asks to see his drawings, and, despite his fears, Niko agrees. Will Iris understand? Will she be able to see what he sees? More importantly, will she feel what he feels?
Niko Draws a Feeling is a beautiful look at feelings and accepting differences, as well as a fun introduction to the idea of abstract art. Raczka’s poetic language captures the hurt of not being understood, as well as the hope of making a new friend, and pairs neatly with the illustrations. Rather than putting Niko’s drawings in sharp contrast to the book’s illustrations, Raczka blends the two together, using muted colors and simple lines to depict the action. Often, Niko’s drawings literally leap off the page, leaving his paper to cover parts of the main illustration. While many readers, like the characters in the book, may initially be left searching for something concrete in them, as the book progresses, it becomes easier to tap into the emotions Niko (and Raczka) are trying to depict.
Those whose imaginations are captured by Niko’s drawings will want to check out The Noisy Paint Box, by Barb Rosenstock, a look at the childhood of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Older children who are looking to learn more about art should also seek out Raczka’s other works, such as Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start. For another story about an out-of-the-box child artist, try Tomie DePaola’s The Art Lesson.