I Can’t Draw by Stephen W. Martin & Brian Biggs

Okay, wow, first of all, whoever is telling Max he can’t draw needs to sit down and take a chill pill.

And sure, I suppose that Max, the protagonist of this children’s picture book, can’t draw as photorealistically as his friend Eugene, who has serious talent. But Max draws quite well for his age, or doodles, I suppose. And in this day and age, figurative drawing isn’t considered a more meaningful (or commercial) format than any other art that gets the point across, never mind the opinions of Old Master purists. Sure I’ll admire a Breughel, but I’ll engage more with a Nathan W Pyle or a Liz Climo. The Helnweins might live in a castle, but Dav Pilkey is still laughing all the way to the bank.

Anyway, this cute book is basically how Max learns to love his own drawing style, tho not in so many words. At first, he’s bummed because his drawings are, according to him, hard to decipher. So he asks the phenomenally talented Eugene to teach him how to draw. As the two become friends, Max’s drawings slowly improve… but something is still missing. Discovering what that is and embracing it are only one of the charms of this delightful book, that’s sure to boost the self-esteem of any reader who, like Max at the start of the book, thinks there’s only one “good” way to draw.

The art for this book about drawing is truly terrific, with plenty of great in-jokes and a variety — or perhaps a spectrum, given the learning curve — of styles. The boys are adorable, and their individual drawings are done with so much heart and character. I have to admit, tho, that I’m weirdly obsessed with Max’s hair color. It’s brown but has so many gorgeous shades in it, and I can’t stop staring at it. Kudos to Brian Biggs for coming up with something that transcends both nature and artifice, becoming something I literally have trouble tearing my gaze from.

My eldest child enjoyed the book tho, unlike myself, had a strong preference for Eugene’s style of drawing. My youngest child and most reluctant reader happily read along with me, but seemed to prefer the “How To Draw” bits — at least the ones that weren’t satirizing the “Step 3: ???” transitions between simple shapes and an anatomically perfect sketch — to anything else.

I Can’t Draw by Stephen W. Martin & Brian Biggs was published today October 18 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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