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We Can: Portraits of Power

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"When I was born, the doctors told my mom that if I did survive I would have lots of health problems and be blind, deaf and severely mentally delayed . . . Boy were they wrong!" —Tyler Gordon

Fifteen-year-old Tyler Gordon's journey from a regular kid growing up in San Jose, California, to a nationally recognized artist wasn’t without its challenges. For the first six years of his life he was fully deaf, which led to a stutter and bullying. Art gave him a creative outlet for his pain. Then, after painting a portrait of Kamala Harris and posting it on social media, he received a call from the vice president herself! Soon his art was everywhere. He had an interview with the The Today Show. He was the youngest artist featured in the Beverly Center. His portrait of LeBron James graced the cover of TIME Magazine. And that was only the beginning!

Here is a debut picture book by partially deaf prodigy Tyler Gordon, featuring his bold paintings of over 30 icons—musicians, artists, writers, civils rights leaders, sports legends, change-makers, record-setters, and more—alongside short explanations of how these people inspire him.

If Tyler can make art and follow his dreams, you can, too. We all can.

40 pages, Hardcover

Published September 28, 2021

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Tyler Gordon

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5 stars
62 (59%)
4 stars
30 (28%)
3 stars
7 (6%)
2 stars
4 (3%)
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1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
5,870 reviews130 followers
November 2, 2021
We Can: Portraits of Power is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Tyler Gordon. It is a collection of thirty-four portraits that Gordon has painted and how they influenced his life.

Tyler Gordon is a teenaged painter whose work has been featured in TIME Magazine, Essence, Good Morning America, and ABC News. In 2020, he was awarded the Global Child Prodigy Award.

Gordon's text is rather simplistic and straightforward. Gordon gives a brief paragraph about the figure portrayed, highlighting career milestones alongside personal connections or resonances in a conversational style with great politeness and reverence. Gordon's distinct pop art-like paintings, rendered in grayscale against colorful monochrome backgrounds, adeptly recall their inspirations.

The premise of the book is rather straightforward. Prolific Black teen portraitist Gordon presents a collection of portrait busts of icons, mostly Black figures who have left, or are leaving, their mark on culture, through film, literature, music, sports, civil rights activists, and political offices – including the presidency of the United States.

The thirty-four tributes mentioned are (in order of appearance): Kamala Harris, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Colin Kaepernick, Naomi Osaka, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali, Kobe Bryant, Jackie Robinson, Lebron James, Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Chadwick Boseman, Janet Jackson, Bob Marley, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Tyler Perry, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Ice Cube, Viola Davis, Amanda Gorman, Prince, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, and Jean-Michael Basquiat.

All in all, We Can: Portraits of Power is wonderful collection profiles, which is more art than resource, but beautifully rendered nevertheless.
Profile Image for Brandie Shanae Bridges.
197 reviews138 followers
September 29, 2021
I read this to my kids and they loved it. I also enjoyed the book because it is inspirational and makes you feel like anything can happen. As I was reading this I also loved the message of how regardless of your circumstances you can do anything you put your mind to. I am so happy I read this along with my kids and I do plan on reading again and again and again.
Profile Image for Mel.
541 reviews22 followers
September 22, 2021
I enjoyed reading this to my son immensely. The artwork was so breathtaking and I had to constantly remind myself that a FIFTEEN year old boy drew these; that's how awestruck I was. This book is filled with portraits Tyler Gordon painted of over 30 icons who inspired him throughout his life, with little dedications beneath each of them.i got so emotional reading about Kobe and Chadwick especially, may they rest in peace. Tyler Gordon is an exceptional young man who I am certain is going to go far in his life. I know his mom must be extremely proud of him.

I recommend this book as a must read for everyone, especially those with young Black children. This book shows how we can find inspiration in every day people, and how it can give us strength to continue fighting for our dreams regardless of the cards dealt to us. I loved this book and I look forward to seeing more work from Tyler Gordon.
Profile Image for Richetta.
125 reviews7 followers
December 19, 2021
Review: When I heard that a 15-year old was the author of We Can: Portraits of Power, I immediately wanted to check it out. As an educator and mom I am always here for kid/teen success stories!

Tyler Gordon began painting when he was 10 years old. Tyler has since painted over 300 portraits of icons that have inspired both the world and his own life personally. He also has a severe stutter and was bullied because of it. One of the second things that caught my attention about this book was the phrase on the book flap before I began reading, “pain into paint on the canvas.” Tyler has learned to channel his pain into his artwork and learning about the icons that he paints.

Tyler’s portraits feature those from both the 20th and 21st centuries. Everyone from our current president Joe Biden and poet Amanda Gorman, who both have had to persevere through a stutter, to older icons like Marilyn Monroe Jimi Hendrix. You can see the influence on his work from the media he consumes, like The View with Whoopi Goldberg. You can also see the influence of his mother in portraits of Prince and The Beatles. And of course you see the influence of those he admires.
My Fave Portraits
♥️ Jean-Michel Basquiat
♥️ Kamala Harris
♥️ Janet Jackson

This book is inspirational on multiple levels. We Can is for kids suffering from bullying, for those trying to overcome a stutter, for those who are interested in art. This is definitely a great selection for the young artist in your life. It also features lots of present-day and historical icons that a young scholar can learn more about. For each portrait he shares why he was inspired to paint that person’s portrait.

Check out my full review on my blog, Cocoa With Books, www.cocoawithbooks.com !
Profile Image for Kristen.
433 reviews
September 15, 2022
A wonderful collection of incredible portraits painted by a talented 15 year old! He has highlighted people who have been an inspiration to him through social justice, politics, culture, civil rights, sports, music, literature and the arts.

Even more inspiring is Tyler’s journey and how art gave him a creative outlet for dealing with his struggles of deafness, stuttering, and bullying.

This is a great book to have an opportunity to not only experience Tylers art but also to learn a little bit about each of the people that inspired him.

I loved how Kamala Harris, when seeing on social media that Tyler had drawn her portrait, she reached out to him directly! And by taking the time to acknowledge an up-and-coming artist this helped to give him the recognition into new opportunities. I love seeing moments when people in a position of power take the time to help lift up others.
Profile Image for Scott Bordelon.
53 reviews12 followers
October 23, 2021
I caught wind of this book from a local news article. At just 15 years old, Gordon has painted over 300 portraits, and this book captures over 30 of his idols, some of which were painted when he was just 10 years old. We Can is marketed as a children’s book, but I found both the book and Gordon to be a huge inspiration, and I’m a 50+ year old man. Reading through this and knowing Gordon’s backstory just blew my mind. What an enormous talent, both in his paintings and his thoughts.

If I had to choose a book for my coffee table and the choices were between this book or a collection of works from any great artist from my college art history class, this is the one I would choose. Each portrait is accompanied by a blurb Gordon wrote about his subjects and how they inspire him. What’s great about this collection is the wide diversity of subjects in profession, affiliations, gender, age, race, disciplines, personality, nationality and era. Kudos to Tyler Gordon.

Here’s a list of subjects depicted in his portraits:

Kamala Harris
Maya Angelou
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
John Lewis
Stacey Abrams
Joe Biden
Barack Obama
Colin Kaepernick
Naomi Osaka
Tiger Woods
Serena Williams
Muhammad Ali
Kobe Bryant
Jackie Robinson
LeBron James
Marilyn Monroe
The Beatles
Chadwick Boseman
Janet Jackson
Bob Marley
Lady Gaga
Michelle Obama
Tyler Perry
Steve Jobs
Oprah Winfrey
Will Smith
Ice Cube
Viola Davis
Amanda Gorman
Whoopi Goldberg
Andy Warhol
Jimi Hendrix
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.3k reviews276 followers
October 30, 2021
Thirty-four black-and-white portraits of individuals who have inspired young artist Tyler Gordon are at the center of this book. For each of those images, Gordon provides his own thoughts about his subjects, some of them politicians and elected officials such as President Joe Biden, others musicians such as Bob Marley, others athletes such as LeBron James, and writers such as Maya Angelou. It's clear that power and influence come in very different forms, and youngsters will draw inspiration for their own future endeavors from these profiles and from Tyler's own example since he also has already faced many life challenges, including stuttering. His work has graced the cover of Time, been highlighted on the Today show, and appeared in art galleries, and he's only 15, having started painting at the tender age of 10. I would have liked him to have shared a bit more about how he chose these portraits and discussed his creative and artistic process. I'm assuming that he worked from photographs or other images and didn't require the subjects who were still living to sit for a portrait, but I'd love to know more about how he decides what to bring out in those individual pieces of art.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,548 reviews42 followers
February 18, 2022
I saw a little piece on Tyler Gordon over on Upworthy a week ago, and was very intrigued by his story. He is partially deaf (as am I!), and was bullied in his younger years because he wore hearing aids. One night, he had a dream where God told him he had a talent for painting, and that if he didn't use it, it would be taken from him. With his mother's support, he took up canvas and paintbrushes, and has used that God-given talent to uplift and inspire.
This book is a collection of some of the portraiture he's done, along with his feelings about each of the people portrayed. I love how I could see Tyler's own values and thoughts coming through with his words, and the simplicity of his painting seems to capture the essence of the people he paints.
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to hearing more about this talented young artist!
Profile Image for Pablito.
552 reviews14 followers
January 8, 2022
This 15-year-old artist, simply put, inspires by painting portraits of his heroes, most of whom have been heroes of mine as well: Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, Jo Biden, Maya Angelou, Kamala Harris, Colin Kaepernick, to name a few.

The messages that accompany his simple yet poignant paintings explain each subject's significance to the painter and the world.

Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @Tylergordansworld and share in the Joy!
Profile Image for Kris Patrick.
1,504 reviews75 followers
December 25, 2021
Honest opinion — I totally stand by this book in a classroom or school library. I would hesitate, however, to use as a read aloud because he features several currently active politicians. I’m being honest here. Plus the short thumbnail bios would be awkward to read aloud anyway. The focus should be admiring Mr. Tyler’s beautiful artwork.
551 reviews2 followers
January 8, 2022
Worthy of 5 stars for the gorgeous illustrations alone, this book presents mini-bios of a host of heroic individuals who have promoted good will and empowerment. Gordon began these illustrated bios at 15 years of age.
Profile Image for Stephanie A-M.
174 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2022
An amazing collection of art and insights from a child prodigy who turned his pain into masterpieces. Tyler Gordon showcases his idols and heroes in the art he creates and tells the reader why he admires his subjects and how they have inspired him to greatness.
Profile Image for Diana Bustamante.
370 reviews2 followers
August 7, 2022
I had never heard of Tyler Gordan until a former colleague met him at a Niner game. Seems that Tyler attended Alum Rock schools, my former district and is currently at Overfelt High school in San Jose. The “rock” does turn out some amazing folks!
201 reviews8 followers
March 7, 2022
Wonderful portraits by an amazing fifteen year old! He gives brief details of each person and why he admires them.
Profile Image for Cindy.
291 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2022
Portraits of Power includes incredible paintings with brief biographies of some incredible people.
Profile Image for Miko Lee.
1,358 reviews10 followers
June 13, 2022
Beautifully illustrated b/w portraits of influential people by 15 year old San Jose based artist Tyler Gordon. Good addition to kids library.
Profile Image for Silvia Alice Botelho.
214 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2022
Very interesting book with amazing drawings and descriptions of why he choose the people he did to paint them.

Great talent from this young man and I truly enjoyed the work.
Profile Image for Great Books.
3,034 reviews59 followers
November 13, 2021
Talented teen artist, Tyler Gordon, has painted portraits of icons who have inspired him and put them together in this wonderful book. From politicians and artists to entertainment stars, short biographical blurbs about each person and the importance they have to him, will be encouraging to young readers.

Reviewer #7
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

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