Activist and artist Nikkolas Smith (The 1619 Project illustrator) tells an approximation of his own story through a child narrator in the motivating, moving, and passionately illustrated The Artivist.
A child with natural hair and skin shaded in browns and golds is Smith's picture-book proxy. The child loves to paint (artist) and help their community (activist), "But sometimes the world that I see is not the world that I wish to see." The protagonist decides to combine both parts of their identity "to take ACTION with my ART." They change one letter on an eviction sign--turning "MOVE TODAY" into "LOVE TODAY"--and the mural goes viral. The protagonist, speaking directly to readers, notes that anyone can be an "Artivist." An Artivist inspires, is an ally, a planet protector, and a memory keeper, and is "brave enough to speak up, even when it is scary."
Smith uses simple, evocative language to create the book's structure and dynamic, emotional art to complete the story. Powerful digital illustrations with textured details depict the Artivist's experience, like the huge purple monster that is a "larger than life" problem. Incarcerated people stare through bars in the monster's trunk; "U.S. vs THEM" is written across the neck; the monster's scales are smokestacks; and gluey, viscous tendrils hold the protagonist captive. Every image creatively depicts what the Artivist is up against: racism, gun violence, gentrification, pollution, injustice, war, hate. Ultimately, liquid golds and sparkling greens overtake the heavy blues and purples as the child begins to be the change they so desire to see. --Hadeal Salamah, blogger, librarian, freelance reviewer