Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art
written by J.H. Shapiro; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Published in October, 2011
Can art change the world? Or is it merely for our appreciation and enjoyment? This is a good question to ask students. In the case of Tyree Guyton, art transformed his life and the life of Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan. Young Tyree collects junk and makes it into toys. One day his house painter grandfather puts a paint brush in his hand and tells him to "paint the world." He leaves Heidelberg Street at age sixteen to find his way. After turns as a soldier, a worker on an assembly line, and a firefighter, Tyree enrolls in art school to fulfill his childhood dream to be an artist. Unfortunately, when he returns home he finds that his street has changed. Trash and troublemakers have taken over. Tyree decides to take back his neighborhood one stroke at a time. With the help of Grandpa Sam, he begins painting and creating art out of the junk that is there. A small group of neighbors and the city are skeptical and bulldozers lay waste to Tyree's work. After the passing of his grandfather, Tyree once again works to renew his community. This time, his neighbors work with him and a court allows the art work to stand. This year, the Heidelberg Project celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Magic Trash is an uplifting story of a person who makes a difference in his neighborhood. J.H. Shapiro's story could be used for several purposes in a classroom. If you are teaching students how to use quotations in their writing, Magic Trash has several examples that can serve as a model. I really like how she weaves lines of poetry into the narrative. These three line sections act as a Greek chorus summarizing the action in the story. It would be an intriguing exercise to follow her example and ask student writers to write three line summaries in sections of books that they are reading. I don't always comment on the illustrations in a book, but I would be negligent if I didn't mention Vanessa Brantley-Newton's dynamic mixed media collages. I won't be surprised if Magic Trash garners some awards for illustration at the end of the year. When you are teaching biographies, this book would be an inspired choice to show children how one person can change their surroundings.