Random Acts Of Reading

Arts Smarts

Arts Smarts

By Linda Ravin Lodding |


Twelve picture book artist biographies that will capture your child’s imagination and set them on a lifelong appreciation for art.

The first time I saw Degas’s sculpture of The Little Dancer I was seven years old and a budding ballerina myself. My grandmother took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I stood in awe of this dancer, cast in bronze, wearing a real frilly tutu and with a faded pale pink ribbon cascading down her back. She captured my imagination. Who was this little dancer? And who was this man, Degas, who made her? That encounter started my lifelong fascination with Degas, ballet, and art.

While some may think that art is too highbrow for children, in fact, the opposite is true. Art speaks to children—even more than the written word. Perhaps it’s because one of the first self-directed activities that a young child engages in is making art. With fingers dipped in paint, they swirl a Van Gogh starry night onto an easel. With crayons in hand, they color their world like Matisse. A lop-sided face takes form like a Picasso painting. Children can identify with art, and with artists, because it’s what children do too. In fact, creating art is one of the earliest ways that a child makes sense of the world around them.

Using this natural affinity for art is a wonderful way to introduce your child to great artists—both the old masters and the new. By giving your child an appreciation for art, you encourage their exploration, self-expression, logical thinking, imagination, and creativity. And early art exposure also teaches children to think openly, be more tolerant of others’ differences, and gives them the courage to take risks.

The cool thing is, you don’t need a trip to the Metropolitan Museum to introduce your child to art and artists. In fact, there are many terrific ways to expose your child to art appreciation without ever leaving your home.

Your library and bookstore are full of art books and make a great jumping off point to talk to your kids about art, inspiration, and new ways of looking at the world.

Here are some of these excellent picture book art biographies that will grab your child’s imagination:

1. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
by Jen Bryant; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Ages: 5–8

Just awarded the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award, honoring a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience and recognized as an honor book for 2014 Robert F. Sibert for most distinguished informational book for children!

As a child in the late 1800s, Horace Pippin loved to draw: He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him. And so begins the remarkable tale of the self-taught African American artist Horace Pippin. Just out, A Splash of Red shares the story of this painter who went from the battle trenches of World War I to the galleries of New York.

For more resources related to the book, see http://asplashofredbook.com/

2. The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art
by Barb Rosenstock; illustrated by Mary Grandpré
Ages: 4–8

The soon-to-be-released The Noisy Paint Box tells the fascinating story of Vasily Kandinsky—one of the first abstract painters. Starting as a young boy, Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds, and sounds as colors—and, by combining sound and color, he created exuberant, bold artwork. This richly illustrated book explores Kandinsky’s creative genius and begs the question, Who decides what is considered “proper” art?

3. Georgia’s Bones
by Jen Bryant; illustrated by Bethanne Anderson
Ages: 5 up

This book follows the life of artist Georgia O’Keefe and celebrates this famous artist’s fascination with natural shapes, “common objects,” and her unusual way of looking at the world.

4. Action Jackson
by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker
Ages: 6–10

Greenberg and Jordan give us a unique book about Jackson Pollock, which explores the artist’s life and his artistic process. Their lyrical text, drawn from Pollock’s own comments, is paired by vibrant watercolors by Robert Andrew Parker that honor the spirit of the artist. Perfect for older children but young ones will love the pictures of Jackson Pollock’s dog.

5. Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist
by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Ages: 10 up

This picture book biography of Vincent Van Gogh (named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book by the ALA) explores the styles and techniques of this 19th-century Dutch painter—focusing on his masterpieces, Starry Night and Vase with Sunflowers. The book also includes a glossary of artists and terms, an insert with family photographs, and full-color reproductions of many of Van Gogh’s paintings.

6. Diego
by Jonah Winter; illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Ages: 3–7

This story of Diego Rivera, the greatest muralist of Mexico—and of the world—is told in Spanish and English. Vibrant miniature paintings convey the sense of adventure and magic that marked Rivera’s early years. And the story shows how his passion for painting and love for his country combined to create art that celebrated the Mexican people.

7. Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol
by James Warhola
Ages: 5 up

James Warhola is the real-life nephew of pop artist Andy Warhol and he tells a charming story about his eccentric family’s visits to the even more eccentric Uncle Andy’s home in New York City. The rich, detail-filled illustrations (also by Warhola) add and extra layer of fun to this book.

8. Brush of the Gods
by Lenore Look; illustrated by Meilo So
Ages: 4–8

A young Wu Daozi desires to learn calligraphy, but instead his strokes create worms, grass, trees, and fishhooks. “Each day something new and surprising dripped out of Daozi’s brush.” Look and So’s imagined biography of legendary Chinese painter Wu Daozi (689–759) is, according to a Kirkus Reviews, “a cheerful introduction not only to Wu Daozi, but to the power of inspiration.”

9. Paris in the Spring with Picasso
by Joan Yolleck; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Ages: 4–8

This evocative portrait of the artists that made Paris tick in the early 20th century is a perfect introduction to the world of contemporary art and literature . . . and to Paris.

10. Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain
by Deborah Kogan Ray
Ages: 7–12

Ray tells the fascinating life story of the Japanese artist Hokusai (1760–1849) who rose from poverty, taught himself to draw, became the promising pupil of a great master, and then defied tradition to become one of the most important and influential artists in the world. This is a wonderful book to introduce children to Japanese art.

11. Delicious: The Art and Life of Wayne Thiebaud
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Ages: 9–14

In this exuberant picture book, Rubin introduces her readers to the delicious world of Wayne Thiebaud—one of the 20th century’s most important artists. This book explores Thiebaud’s more delicious subject matter of cakes, pies, and cupcakes, which is sure to appeal to a young audience—and make readers hungry!

And finally,

12. Degas and the Little Dancer (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children)
by Laurence Anholt
Ages: 4–8

Anholt has carved out a niche introducing young readers to the great artists of the 19th century by weaving a tale that captures a child’s imagination. In this work, he brings to life the story of Marie—Degas’s subject for the Little Dancer. Look for his other books on Monet, Da Vinci, Matisse, Renoir, and others.