By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is currently exhibiting a number of works of art from the Louvre. I went to the museum recently, and for me one of the highlights was seeing The Astronomer by Jan Vermeer. Last year I edited Bob Raczka’s book The Vermeer Interviews, so I was eager to finally see one of Vermeer’s paintings in person.
Two things struck me about the painting. First, it’s so small! Vermeer’s paintings are so detailed that I thought they would have to be somewhat large to contain all that detail. But The Astronomer is about 19” x 17.” This photo gives you a sense of its size. Second, the painting is dark. I knew from working on the book that a number of Vermeer’s paintings are dark in color, but I was still surprised by how dark The Astronomer is.
The Vermeer Interviews is not your typical art book. It consists of imagined interviews that Bob conducts with the subjects of seven Vermeer paintings. While we were working on this book, Bob and I thought about how teachers might be able to use it in the classroom. While it’s a great fit for art classes, the book’s appeal extends beyond art classes as well.
The interviews could easily be performed in a Reader’s Theater-type reading by students in a language arts or world history class. Groups of two to three students* could perform the interviews for their classmates. Each painting could be projected onto a screen or electronic whiteboard while the interview is performed so that the students listening could study it. We included pronunciations for words and phrases within the text (rather than, say, in a pronunciation guide at the end of the book) so that someone reading the text aloud will have the pronunciation right there.
Students could also use the interview format of the book as a starting point for book reports. Rather than writing a conventional book report about a novel, students could choose a character from a book and conduct a written interview with that character. This could also work for biographies. By carefully choosing the questions, students would be able to reveal interesting information about the characters, the plot, and more.
*Five of the book’s interviews involve two people, and two involve three people.