News | December 19, 2022

What Might You Do? Christian Robinson Exhibition at The Carle

© Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson, Illustration for You Matter (Atheneum).

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is delighted to present its newest exhibition: What Might You Do? Christian Robinson. It opens January 14, 2023 and is on view through June 4, 2023. In only 10 years, Christian Robinson has emerged as a transformative voice in children’s literature. Through his colorful collages and painted illustrations, he creates welcoming worlds where children who have long been under-represented in picture books can see themselves.

Robinson was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with his grandmother and five other relatives. Drawing became a way to make space for himself in a crowded environment and to create the kind of world he wanted to see. He understands the power of representation and knows the books children read today will impact the world they create as adults: “Children need to see themselves in books. They need to see their gender. They need to see their color, hair texture, their disability, themselves.” He empowers readers in books like The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade and celebrates friendship in Leo: A Ghost Story. He addresses emotional wellbeing in Rain! and models gratitude in Last Stop on Market Street. He brings music to the printed page in picture-book biographies on Josephine Baker and Florence Mills. Through every story, Robinson’s message persists: You Matter.
Ellen Keiter, chief curator at The Carle, notes “Robinson has a special talent for communicating sensitive stories and the urban environment in beautiful ways.” The young protagonist in Milo Imagines the World considers the lives of fellow subway passengers while, in Last Stop on Market Street, CJ and his grandmother meet riders on a public bus. On her way to the laundromat, Carmella discovers a dandelion growing “among the concrete weeds” of the sidewalk and deliberates on her birthday wish, the premise of Carmela Full of Wishes. In his re-illustrating of The Dead Bird, originally written by Margaret Wise Brown in 1938, Robinson locates the tale in an urban setting, using the green of a city park as replacement for a forest. Robinson’s inclusive cast of characters includes animals too! In Gaston and its sequel Antoinette, his colorful compositions bring the books’ Parisian setting to life as the dogs run past busy streetside cafés and even sneak into the Louvre. 
The artist freely combines collage and acrylic paint for his illustrations. He enjoys the control and precision of collage while paint offers fluidity and endless color possibilities. “It’s important for me,” says Robinson, “to make pictures that feel hand made. Today a lot of illustration is digital. I’m not against it, I see it as a tool. But I want a person to see what I’m using: I want them to see this was a piece of paper, this was a brushstroke. It’s like an honesty thing.” Robinson’s collages are characterized by their intimate scale, geometric forms, ample white space, and, often, visible brushstrokes. His primary tools are an X-acto blade, tape, Nori paste, and acrylic paint. He also uses string, photographs, paper doilies, and newspaper to create visual interest and texture, as well as a trusty hole punch for colorful confetti. 
Robinson takes a modernist approach to picture-book design. He shows buildings at skewed angles and creates interior scenes that float on fields of white. Triangles, rectangles, and circular shapes abound. He playfully favors color, form, and pattern over linear perspective, keeping readers engaged with shifting viewpoints. 
Guests to the exhibition can view 90 artworks by Robinson from 17 picture books, including those written by award-winning authors Mac Barnett, Margaret Wise Brown, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Rylant, and others. Museum visitors are also invited to “drive” the bus from Last Stop on Market Street or peer through a reality-flipping portal reminiscent of Another. They can skip Robinson’s hopscotch board from School’s First Day of School or jump in “puddles” inspired by Rain! All of Robinson’s illustrated picture books are available to read in the gallery, and videos from his 2020 Making Space series are also presented.  
In just a decade, Robinson has received numerous accolades and awards, including a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. He lives in California. 
This exhibition is organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, Abilene, Texas.
The following books illustrated by Christian Robinson are featured in the exhibition:

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by René Watson, 2012
Rain! by Linda Ashman, 2013
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, 2014
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, 2014
Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, 2014
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, 2015
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, 2015
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, 2016
Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, 2016
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, 2016
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, 2017
Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio, 2017
Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña, 2018
Another by Christian Robinson, 2019
Just in Case You Want to Fly by Julie Fogliano, 2019
You Matter by Christian Robinson, 2020
Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, 2021