7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #809: Featuring Theodore Taylor III

h1 August 28th, 2022 by jules


“Mom and Dad were so excited, moving from one end of the country to the other to trade our fast, busy city life for a small, quiet one far away. I wasn’t feeling it.” This — the opening spread of Theodore Taylor III’s Off the Wall (Roaring Book), coming to shelves in October — depicts the narrator, looking out the car window at a sign that says: “BUFFINTON Population 80, 723.” In speech-bubble dialogue, we read the child’s response: “Meh.”

Sam (the publisher’s description of the book genders her as a girl) feels like an outsider in her new city — and even at school: “I was ready to take the first spacecraft home.” But one day she spots graffiti on the side of a building, and she is moved by it. She describes it as being like “a language from another planet that only I could understand.” A passerby gives Sam some side-eye, who stands there in awe and says, “WOW.” A construction worker stands with his hands on his hips, glaring at the wall. Clearly, the graffiti is not welcome. But it reminds Sam of home, “loud and energetic.” She even dreams of graffiti that night.

The next day, Sam’s cousin, Lincoln, visits. Sam is excited to show Lincoln the graffit but is bummed to see it’s been painted over. But Lincoln knows that “graffiti is hiding everywhere” — street signs, moving vans, murals, freight trains, and more. The two spend the day exploring tags. The freight train, Sam thinks, is “like an art gallery in motion.” Even better, Sam is thrilled to discover on the way home an abandoned factory inside which artists are paintings on the walls: “We had stepped into another world.” She watches the artists, who each work in distinctive styles. When Sam asks a girl about the space, she learns that the town had given the buildling to artists for painting. Sam gets her own spray can and a mask and — “PSSSST!!” — makes her mark, finally feeling at home.

In a detailed closing note (“Graffiti is a sign of life”), Taylor (who lives in Richmond, Virginia) writes about how he became, as a kid, interested in graffiti, “the craft that is inspiring, mysterious, and, yes, often illegal,” noting that he himself is not a graffiti artist. His interest in urban environments and culture grew as he aged, and he often photographed abandoned structures and the graffit adorning it. He writes about a family trip to Italy and noticing the “ancient graffiti left on walls by everyday people” and writes about cities that make space for urban art, though it is often erased: “Despite community urges to buff away graffiti, this form of art continues to act as a voice for those who feel they don’t have one.” He includes a note about the 2020 racial protests and the efforts in Richmond (former capital of the Confederate States of America) to remove the symbols of oppression in the form of Confederate statues. He tells a moving story about how many were defaced with graffiti and how — in the end, after the statues were removed — “only the graffiti-covered pedestals remained.”

Taylor’s energetic artwork, in a palette dominated by purples and gleaming golds, captures graffiti art — and the artists behind it — with abundant reverence. This is a story about finding oneself; finding community; embracing one’s misfit-ness (“It’s okay to be a little off the wall,” we see on a final spread, and it is, fittingly, styled to look like a tag); and making space for art that gives voice to those who are marginalized. Here are some spreads so that you can see some of it for yourself. …


“That night my dreams were full of graffiti, as if someone in town was trying to send me a message — and it was my job to find out who.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“He knew graffiti was hiding everywhere. Tags in the alley, stickers on street signs, stencils on the corner, throw-ups on moving vans,
murals in parking lots reaching high into the sky.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“Inside we discovered dozens of artists painting every inch of the building’s walls.
We had stepped into another world.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


OFF THE WALL. Copyright © 2022 by Theodore Taylor III. llustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, New York.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) A four-mile walk with a friend …

1½) … and spotting (up close) a heron in the water in the late-afternoon sunlight.

2) This entry about stuttering — and “your willingness to listen” — in filmmaker James Robinson’s NYT Opinion Video series that profiles people with disabilities.

3) The James Marshall Lectures, now available at the University of Connecticut.

4) This tweet made me laugh for about five minutes straight:



5) Listening to Elbow on shuffle in the car with my daughters and getting goosebumps, as I alway do, when reminded that Guy Garvey is one of our greatest songwriters AND wishing he could just, like, narrate my life.

6) I’m mildly to moderately (okay, moderately) obsessed with the show Yellowjackets. It’s taking up a lot of my mindshare.

7) A trip this week that will be bittersweet, but I’m trying to focus on the kicky sweet part.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #809: Featuring Theodore Taylor III”

  1. Hi Imps! Hello, Theodore! I especially love the purple tones.

    Jules: Three cheers for Elbow. Three THOUSAND cheers. That cat picture is an A24 movie waiting to happen. Hello to your kiddos and hugs to you.

    My kicks this week are filled with necessities:
    1) Movies
    2) Music
    3) Food
    4) Water
    5) Space
    6) Balance
    7) Creativity

  2. Love the energetic and colorful illustrations, and that Sam finds a place for her own expression in the new city.

    Jules – that cat photo is amazing. How lucky to see a heron up close, especially in that magical late-afternoon sunlight. Sending hugs and wishes that the sweet part of your sweet trip helps with the bitter.

    Little Willow – your kicks this week reads like a list of all the things necessary for survival. I hope it means you are thriving because these needs are being met.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Zucchini and cucumber from my garden. And basil.
    2) Did a When Harry Met Sally rewatch & it still holds up as a classic, and is making me want to visit NY this fall.
    3) Walks in the neighborhood.
    4) Read Colson Whitehead’s “The Harlem Shuffle” and really enjoyed it.
    5) Finished watching This Way Up, and what an awkward, messy, funny, charming and loving tribute to humans.
    6) Finding the hardcopy online of an interview I did with Hubert Selby Jr. in 1999, and the memories of that delightful afternoon flooding back. Thank goodness for the Internet Archives!
    7) Portland’s Tool Library – I’ve checked out fruit pickers and am so excited to pick the pears & apples from my backyard trees.
    7.5) All the adorable dogs and cats I get to meet on my walks.

    Have a great week Imps!

  3. Little Willow, I’m with Rachel 110% on those kicks!

    Rachel, I recently showed When Harry Met Sally to my daughters. Did you see this thread: https://twitter.com/blgtylr/status/1531814690355036165? So funny. It is, honestly, what prompted me to rewatch the movie. … I’m glad you enjoyed Whitehead’s new novel. I want to read that one too. Kick #6 is so cool!

    Have a good week, you two!

  4. Jules – what did your girls think? Thank you for the link to that Twitter thread – that was awesome! And I agree with him about Meg Ryan, she was so perfect in that movie.
    Fun fact about Hubert Selby Jr – Cheyenne was still a puppy of about 8 months, so I had her in the back seat of the car and Hubert was delighted by her. (She was always pretty chill and well-behaved around people.)

  5. Oh! Cheyenne! Sweet pup.

    They liked the movie. As huge Star Wars fans, they thought it was very fun to see Carrie Fisher in that role.

  6. […] This review was published in Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on August 28, 2022. […]

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