Daly, Niki. 2009. BETTINA VALENTINO AND THE PICASSO CLUB. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 9780374307530 [Suggested Grade Levels 3- 6]
Australian Niki Daly has written and illustrated his first chapter book and it is a doozey. Bettina is an exuberant fifth grader crazy about art: “I like art that jumps off the wall and hits you in the eye like a wound-up ninja.” She calls her father, Daddles, and her mother, Mumsie, and she’s in love with her new art teacher, Mr. Peppard a.k.a. Mr. Popart. She attends a private school for talented children which is run down and in need of parental donations. Not all the children approve of Mr. Popart. Unfortunately the one whose family has promised a cash infusion is offended by his tactics and his art. The plot thickens . . .
Daly’s prose is as fun as his characters. He obviously loves word play and creates several new words such as “cooluscious” and “brilliobonazafantaroony.” He also loves art – Mr. Popart teaches his students about Dadaism, Cubism, and Pop Art. The children appreciate his explanations, his encouragement, and his insights: “That’s what makes him such a great teacher. He teaches us to believe in ourselves.” The fifth graders are energized and excited about art and making art. Their enthusiasm is contagious which provides for a very entertaining story.
Provide materials so that children can produce a piece of art based on one of the “isms” presented in the novel. Or provide short texts from newspapers or magazines that can be cut into phrases to form dada poetry.
Books about teachers who make a difference:
Clements, Andrew. THE LANDRY NEWS: A BRAND NEW SCHOOL STORY. ISBN 9780689818172
Codell, Esme Raji. SAHARA SPECIAL. ISBN 9780786807932
By Cay Geisler