Magic Trash <br><font size=2>A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art</font>

Magic Trash
A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art

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By: J.H. Shapiro / Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Paint the world!

Internationally acclaimed artist Tyree Guyton grew up on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan. When he was a boy he collected bits and pieces—trash—to create his own fun. Eventually Tyree left Heidelberg Street to find his way in the world, but his mind often traveled back home. When he did return, hard times had fallen on his neighborhood: homes were abandoned, trash was everywhere, and troublemakers haunted the street. Tyree re-imagined his decaying neighborhood, and with the help of his grandpa Sam, who had encouraged him to paint the world, Tyree set to fixing up the mess. He created sculpture out of the trash that littered the neighborhood, painted the dilapidated houses with color and design, and changed the world on Heidelberg Street.

The Heidelbert Project, an ongoing art installation where Tyree Guyton still works, celebrated 25 years in 2011. Magic Trash is the story of Tyree’s transformation of a dying neighborhood, the opposition he faced, and how a residential neighborhood in Detroit became famous. An inspiring story of urban renewal and the healing power of art.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s mixed media collage art is a fitting tribute to the beauty of Tyree Guyton’s vision that anything can become a beautiful thing when used for a purpose.

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Author & Illustrator Bios:

J.H. Shapiro, author

J.H. Shapiro discovered Tyree Guyton’s art while a docent at Michigan State University’s art museum. She has been a social worker for the Department of Medicine at MSU, where she wrote two picture books for children with von Willebrand disease. During a year in Hawaii, she volunteered at the Waikiki Aquarium and wrote about marine animals. She now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon, and leads school tours through the Portland Art Museum.

Read more about J.H. Shapiro.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton, illustrator

Much like Tyree Guyton, Vanessa Brantley-Newton started her artistic pursuits as a child—drawing on walls and on the side of the kitchen stove. Today she’s living her dream of being a freelance artist—sticking to paper instead of walls, though. She has illustrated many children’s books, including Scholastic’s Ruby series andLet Freedom Sing, which she also wrote. She lives in New Jersey.

Read more about Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

Awards & Honors:


  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Books of the Year 2012
  • Michigan Notable Books
  • Publisher Weekly's Notable African American Titles


Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

Multi-colored, multi-layered, multi-media illustrations trace the life of Tyree Guyton and his visionary artwork, which used reclaimed trash to turn a derelict Detroit street into community-activist art.

Tyree's magic—his ability to find whimsy, brightness and joy in junk—make him both an endearing and an unusual person to young readers fixated on shiny products hermetically sealed in plastic. Buttons, Popsicle sticks, crayons, broken wheels and bottle caps bounce around pages, conjuring Tyree's excitement as he makes his won funky toys as a child and later, trash artwork as an adult. Warm, comedic renderings of neighbors and family (particularly Grandpa Sam), offset somewhat jarring multi-media elements: creepy, dirty stuffed animals, slapdash patches of newsprint, random-feeling rounds of fabric. But when Tyree's childhood street becomes his art, these compositional choices make more sense. On Heidelberg Street, neon vacuum cleaners line lawns, houses pulsate with polka-dots and doll-babies hang from telephone wires, bringing a similar discomfort and disorientation—and making shady characters flee. When a judge stops bulldozers from destroying Heidelberg Street, declaring it a work of art, a victory dance seems in order. Readers whiz through Tyree's story, propelled by his energy and zinging, trippy triplets that cap each significant event in his life. "Let rockets fly!/Boards tower high./Bounce, jump and dance, magic trash!"

An inspiring, exciting introduction to avant-garde art and social commentary, this biography convinces young readers that art can exist, thrive and effect change outside in the real world.


Encouraged by his artist grandfather, a young boy growing up in Detroit finds inspiration when he collects discarded refuse and reimagines it as art. Tyree Guyton sees raw materials when the other children on Heidelberg Street see garbage, and he uses those materials to forge beauty from next to nothing. As a teen, Tyree moves away, but after returning to Detroit as an adult, he converts Heidelberg Street into a public art installation, polka-dotting abandoned houses, suspending shoes from tree limbs, and decorating telephone poles with broken dolls. In telling this true story, Shapiro punctuates her zippy, buoyant narrative with rhyming refrains distinguished by larger, looping typography. Brantley-Newton references Guyton's found-object installations with her own warm, mixed-media collages, embellishing her hand-drawn figures and evocative settings with photographic scraps of buttons and bears, toasters and trains. This engaging picture-book biography delights as an affectionate portrait of a transformative artist and inspires as a call to find and make beauty wherever we are.


Growing up on Detroit's rough Heidelberg Street in the 1950s, Tyree Guyton was always attracted to two into things: trash and painting. Throughout his youth, Tyree combined the two in his own brand of art, guided by his loving grandfather. After a stint in the army and as a firefighter, Tyree returns to his old street and finds it in serious disarray as the community is plagued by rioting and vandalism. Tyree began turning vacant homes into art, utilizing the rubbish that lined the street. When city officials threatened to bulldoze his work, community members and a judge ruled in favor of preserving Tyree's work, which is the now world-renowned Heidelberg Project. Shapiro's writing is electric with rhythmic text and rhyming flourishes that perfectly complement the raw energy of Tyree's art: "Old houses talk./Some neighbors squawk./Crash, bash, and smash magic trash." Brantley-Newton's illustrations are a clever mix of cartoonish renderings, lifelike portraits, and mixed-media collage, mirroring the multimedia approach Guyton utilized in his work. This uplifting work is sure to inspire young artists, particularly those who are growing up in similarly gritty urban landscapes.

School Library Journal

Guyton grew up poor on Detroit's East Side. After stints in the military, in the auto industry, and as a firefighter, he attended art school. Returning home, he found his neighborhood dotted with vacant houses, full of trash, and infested with "troublemakers." Vowing to do something to save it he and his grandfather began painting rubbish in bright colors; painting bold, primitive faces on windows; and decorating the trees. Although the city government sought to destroy this uncommissioned community art, the neighbors rallied, and it was allowed to stand. Eventually, many houses on the street were painted with large, cheerful dots, and the neighborhood became internationally known. Replete with vivid action words, onomatopoeia, and singsong rhythmic interludes, the text creates a sense of urgency and exhilaration. However, it is the artwork that is the truly outstanding element of this book. Brantley-Newton captures the exuberant nature of Guyton's work while incorporating his use of dots and circles, cast-off objects, and painterly brushstrokes. Glowing pigments appear rubbed into canvas surfaces to create backgrounds for the cartoonlike yet sensitive drawings of Guyton, his family, and his neighbors. Crayon drawings, gouache highlights, and charming collage tidbits ensure that each page is full of life.

Library Media Connection

This unique picture book manages to pack in a number of inspiring themes such as following your dreams, fighting for what you believe in, and transforming the trash, debris, and deterioration of a city into something beautiful. The author briefly chronicles the life story of artist Tyree Guyton and his Heidelberg community art project in Detroit with the varying moods that reflect the diverse circumstances of the story. Combined with the distinctiveness of the mixed media artwork, the events and characters involved will stay on the mind of the reader long after they've putt the book down.

NC Teacher Stuff

Can art change the world? Or is it merely for our appreciation and enjoyment? This is a good question to ask students. In the case of Tyree Guyton, art transformed his life and the life of Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan. Young Tyree collects junk and makes it into toys. One day his house painter grandfather puts a paint brush in his hand and tells him to "paint the world." He leaves Heidelberg Street at age sixteen to find his way. After turns as a soldier, a worker on an assembly line, and a firefighter, Tyree enrolls in art school to fulfill his childhood dream to be an artist. Unfortunately, when he returns home he finds that his street has changed. Trash and troublemakers have taken over. Tyree decides to take back his neighborhood one stroke at a time. With the help of Grandpa Sam, he begins painting and creating art out of the junk that is there. A small group of neighbors and the cit are skeptical and bulldozers lay waste to Tyree's work. After the passing of his grandfather, Tyree once again works to renew his community. This time, his neighbors work with him and a court allows the art work to stand. This year, the Heidelberg Project celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Magic Trash is an uplifting story of a person who makes a difference in his neighborhood. J.H. Shapiro's story could be used for several purposes in a classroom. If you are teaching students how to use quotations in their writing, Magic Trash has several examples that can serve as a model. I really like how she weaves lines of poetry into the narrative. These three line sections act as a Greek chorus summarizing the action in the story. It would be an intriguing exercise to follow her example and ask student writers to write three line summaries in sections of books that they are reading. I don't always comment on the illustrations in a book, but I would be negligent if I didn't mention Vanessa Brantley-Newton's dynamic mixed media collages. I won't be surprised if Magic Trash garners some awards for illustration at the end of the year. When you are teaching biographies, this book would be an inspired choice to show children how one person can change their surroundings.


This is the story of Tyree Guyton, a painter and sculptor who grew upon Detroit's East Side amongst disenfranchised neighbors and iunsupportive family members. He found a supporter in his grandfather and solace in his art. After life as a a soldier, author inspector, and firefighter he enrolled in an art school and later returned to ameliorate the condition of his neighborhood and the people living in it. With paint, imagination, and help from his neighbors, he fought the city to save the trash and houses that had become art. This book reminds us of the potential of one determined individual, the transformative power of creativity, and the healing abilities of visual art.

Perfect for Black History Month (and all year long) is this paint-spattered paean to the creative, community-galvanizing spirit of Tyree Guyton. Even as a small boy, Guyton was alive to the beauty and possibility of his poor Detroit neighborhood. He would pick up bits of trash—Popsicle sticks, broken bike wheels, buttons, baseball caps—and use them in games and art projects. Encouraged by his Grandpa Sam, Guyton began painting and learned to ignore the jeers of the other kids on Heidelberg Street. In the wake of riots and a mass exodus to the suburbs, as his street became more desolate and drug-ridden, Guyton fought back with bright colors, garbage-bedecked sculptures and brilliant portraits he called "Faces of God." Vanessa Brantley-Newton manages to capture the robust sensibility and style of Guyton's art in her vibrant mixed-media illustrations—the perfect accompaniment to this intriguing biography of a contemporary artist.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-386-2

ISBN: 978-1-60734-793-4 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-308-0 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 5-8
Page count: 32
9 x 9

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