Growing an Artist

When my husband and I were first married, he worked as a landscaper. His socks in the laundry could stand up on their own! He studied landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota. He worked in nurseries and garden centers. We’ve both read this book, which brought back many memories. It’s an accurate representation of a landscaper’s occupation and art, except there are no dirty socks!

Growing an Artist

This is John Parra’s story of growing up working in his father’s landscaping business. As a young boy, he went along on jobs and pitched in where he could. His father and the crew were good teachers, encouraging. John, or Juanito as he was called then, often took out his sketch pad and drew. Eventually, this leads to drawing detailed landscaping plans, which are featured as the endpapers in this book. I found them fascinating to study because blueprints are such a particular style of drawing.

There is tension in the book. One of the students from Juanito’s school sees him doing this manual work but doesn’t acknowledge our young laborer. Juanito is proud of the work his father does, the skill and knowledge he has. This classmate makes Juanito feel odd. 

His father tells him, “You have to work hard and sometimes you are treated like you are invisible but when you do something you love and get to be creative, you feel proud.”

Growing an Artist
copyright © John Parra, illustration from Growing an Artist, Paula Wiseman Books, 2022

The illustrations themselves are a storytelling partnership. Done in acrylic paints on illustration board, they are stylized, flat in dimension, except for important elements that are drawn in perspective.  Each spread includes wild and domesticated animals, which are fun to seek out.

There’s so much included with which a child can identify. When Papi and Juanito head to the dump, I immediately remembered the smell and sites of the town dump to which my grandfather and I traveled each week (no garbage pickup back then).

I believe this book will spur conservations about what mommy, daddy, and family caregivers do for work, their interests, and why they take pride in their jobs. John Parra’s memories are warm and heartfelt.

The Author’s Note tells John’s father’s story. Born to immigrant parents in Texas, his dad worked “alongside his siblings as a migrant farm worker.” As he grows up, he gets a job at a nursery, serves in the army, and then sets about learning to have a landscaping business. 

There is so much to like about Growing an Artist. It shines on our bookshelf! t

Growing an Artist: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son
written and illustrated by John Parra
Paula Wiseman Books
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022
ISBN 978-1-53446-9-273

4 thoughts on “Growing an Artist”

  1. This book looks wonderful, Vicki! I love the idea of instilling pride in physical labor and of a job well-done. So important for kids (and adults) to understand this.
    P.S. I love the description of your dear husband’s socks!!


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