Recommended for ages 5-10
Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest artist of all time, was bullied? Not as a child, either – as an adult. When the Dutch artist moved to Arles, France, he was taunted and bullied by the townspeople, including the children, who mocked his bright red hair and his unusual artistic style. It’s even a recent theory that Van Gogh did not commit suicide, but was shot by two teenage boys that he knew.
The Artist and Me is told through the eyes of a childhood bully, one of Van Gogh’s tormentors, looking back at his life. Written as a journal entry, or possibly a letter to a son or grandson, the unnamed narrator begins by writing, “I used to do an ugly thing…” and tells the story of how he laughed at and ridiculed a “crazy man with wild red hair and a short red beard and a dream.” While he’s secretly intrigued by Van Gogh and his paintings, he falls into bully mode, “in crowds, of course, since that is what cowards do.” One day, he follows Van Gogh into a field and sees, just for a moment, the landscape as the artist does, and this transforms him – but when Van Gogh tries to connect with him, he runs away. As an older man, he sees the paintings in a museum and sadly writes, “I don’t laugh at him anymore”.
The Artist and Me is a message to both the bullied and the bullies. Anyone can be a target, but you can also rise above it. Van Gogh never gave up on his dream of telling the truth with his art. Bullies are redeemable – and you don’t have to wait for years to pass before realization. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes can be the great equalizer, if one is brave enough to let it happen. The acknowledgement that bullying is a team sport for cowards delivers a strong message that I hope reaches children and adults.
Sophie Casson’s beautiful art is created in Van Gogh’s signature style, looking very much like he illustrated this story. She uses bold colors and lines, creating landscapes and people alike.
This is the kind of book you read to all of your grade levels to talk about the consequences of bullying. Putting Van Gogh’s story out there for people to hear and see opens up the chance to have some deep conversations about mob rules, crowd behavior, and most importantly, the effects that bullying has on both the bully and the bullied.
Take a look at some of the beautiful artwork from this powerful book.