Make Meatballs Sing: The Life & Art of Corita Kent – by Matthew Burgess,  illustrated by Kara Krame

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life & Art of Corita Kent – by Matthew Burgess,  illustrated by Kara Kramer, Enchanted Lion, 9781592703166, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5+

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book biography

What did you like about the book?  Pop icon Corita Kent stars in this gorgeous picture book and if you’ve never heard of her, after reading it, you’ll immediately head to the Corita Art Center’s website to see more of her work. Burgess and Kramer work together seamlessly to tell us about Kent’s childhood, her inspirations, her religious vocation, her place in the Pop Art movement, and her activism. This is a complex story, but Burgess’s text, related with a clean, typewriter font, gives the perfect amount of information. I loved the focus on small moments and their influence on her art. Big questions that might concern adults (why did she become a nun? What is a nun, anyway? Why did she leave the Church?) are introduced with matter-of-fact language and left at that. Kramer has succeeded where so many other art biography illustrators fail; her work perfectly captures the playfulness, vibrancy, and deepness of Kent’s work but does not compete with it. The book is quite large, and Kramer takes advantage of that to create a giant double-hinged picture of Corita’s students using cardboard finders to re-envision ordinary objects. The pages swing open to reveal students peering at grocery shelves, including the famous Del Monte tomato cans that figure in the book’s title. 

The book designers have included significant back matter for further study. End papers include photos of Kent and her directions for looking at the world. The numerous quotes in the book are reprinted and cited. A long note from both the author and the illustrator talk about their love for Kent’s work and how she inspired them. Finally, an extensive timeline documents milestones in her life. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. I guess the title will catch people’s attention, but if you don’t know Kent’s work, you might think it’s going to be a cookbook.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Everyone! Kids who love art, especially those fascinated by typography or interested in the intersection between art and social justice. This book could be a read aloud for students in every grade, from 1st through 12th. I could see an art teacher using this as an activator for a unit on Kent, calligraphy or graphic design. Kent spent her last 20 years in Boston and her Boston Gas commission The Rainbow Swash is an important landmark, so it also ties to local history.

Who should buy this book? All libraries

Where would you shelve it? Biography

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? A resounding yes!

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: June 14, 2021

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