I’ve had I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino sitting on my shelf at work for years. I decided this year I was going to read a Newbery a month. Finally, I have an excuse for this one beyond “Oh, it’s in my section. I should read that.” de Trevino won the 1966 Newbery Medal for this, and it’s quite good. Not perfect, but a pretty good book.
For the record this is a very quiet book. It builds up slowly though it’s under two hundred pages long. It details the life of a slave, Juan de Pareja, as he is given from person to person as property. He eventually comes to the hands of Velazquez, the known painter of the Spanish Court. Velazquez is a very good master, kind-hearted and tender, and Juan enjoys being in his service. Juan comes to desire something he never thought he would – his freedom, so he can paint like his master. To this end he begins working in the night and his spare moments, toiling away with canvas and charcoal. He doesn’t ever dream that he will ever be able to show anyone his secret.
I enjoyed this book. It brought back something close to my heart – painting. In my non-book life I am actually an artist. I studied watercolours and printmaking for years, so the time spent in the studio was very natural to me. This book sort of reminds me of Girl with the Pearl Earring without the sexual tension and with a young man. It’s a great book for the social theme of racial tensions as well.
Overall, 4 out of 5 from me. Great book for kids to learn about painting and art.
– Follow the Reader –