Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat


A decent introduction to street art.

It's a biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat. His mother was Puerto Rican and his father was Haitian. I was a little bit familiar with Basquiat from a design class that I took in college where we discussed Basquiat, mostly in his relationship to Andy Warhol (who is not mentioned in this book). The book's story starts with him as a boy drawing a lot. His mom teaches him that anything can be art. When he gets in a car accident, she gives him a book of anatomy and he learns how to draw it and that makes him less scared. His mother starts suffering from mental illness and has to leave the home. He visits her whenever he can, and as he grows up he leaves Brooklyn for New York City. He sleeps on friends' couches a lot and starts making street art and signing it "SAMO." He becomes well known by that pseudonym and starts making paintings in galleries, continuing to visit his mother when he can. It ends with him as a famous artist.

At the end, there's a section about the book. It talks about how his mother started suffering from mental illness when Jean-Michel was seven, and part of why the author/illustrator wrote the book is because she thought it was important to talk about mental illness. However, the book doesn't really talk about it much, and the story part of the book also doesn't mention that Basquiat died at age 27 from a drug overdose. The reality is that he died quite young and was addicted to drugs, so his story was a bit more tragic than this children's book accounts for.

It's a decent book, but I'm not overly impressed by it. If you're interested in introducing your children to Basquiat and street art and maybe a little bit of Puerto Rican-American history in there then it's a good book for that. I'm not sure that it's got a widely applicable message. But it won a Caldecott, so it's popular. Despite Basquiat's more urban, street art style, the book strikes me as very arty. That's not necessarily bad, because it's about an artist, but it doesn't seem very approachable, especially to younger children.


Jean-Michel Basquiat had a very interesting life.

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