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May 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more Classroom Connections
Introduce young readers to a diverse variety of visual artists and their work with these picture-book biographies.
Artist biographies have always been popular topics with kids, parents, and teachers, and now, with the growing interest in STEAM, school and public librarians should be encountering increased demand. Field trips to art museums are also on the increase, with many institutions offering kid-friendly tours in efforts to make art accessible and engaging. Luckily, authors and publishers have kept up with these trends, venturing ever farther afield through diverse subjects and innovative treatments. Here are some noteworthy picture books about artists published within the past five years or so, with subjects ranging from Mary Cassatt to Jean-Michel Basquiat and content ranging from straightforward facts to invented encounters. For an older audience—and another twist on the subject—check out the feature “Art-Themed Mysteries” from our November 2017 issue. Art is intended to inspire us and take us away on flights of fancy, so off we go!
The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell. By Candace Fleming. Illus. by Gérard Dubois. 2018. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780399552380). K–Gr. 3.
Charming old-fashioned paintings depict young assemblage artist Joseph Cornell collecting items that “sparked his imagination or delighted his eye.” The emphasis on finding inspiration, even from the most ordinary places, should encourage young readers to make art of their own. This is an accessible introduction to Cornell and his unique style.
Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box. By David McPhail. Illus. by the author. 2015. Holt, $17.99 (9780805091700). PreS–Gr. 3.
This simple biography describes young, self-taught Potter drawing pictures of her pets and countryside landscapes. The pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations with delicate cross-hatching evoke an old-fashioned appeal. Use this as a companion read-aloud to Potter’s fanciful and ever-popular stories.
Brush of the Gods. By Lenore Look. Illus. by Meilo So. 2013. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375870019). K–Gr. 3.
This lyrical tale swirls back through Chinese history to imagine the life of Wu Daozi, a painter who broke free from traditional calligraphy, bringing spirit and motion to Chinese art. The richly colored artwork is stunning in both scope and particulars, with inky calligraphy brushstrokes that accent people and places.
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois. By Amy Novesky. Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. 2016. Abrams, $18.95 (9781419718816). Gr. 1–3.
Abstract expressionist sculptor Louise Bourgeois’ life story and her notable works, not often the subject of children’s books, are accompanied by beautifully scratchy, ink-splotched illustrations, rendered in pencil, watercolor, and pastel, that subtly and seamlessly incorporate Bourgeois’ designs and motifs.
Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse. By Marjorie Blain Parker. Illus. by Holly Berry. 2012. Dial, $16.99 (9780803737587). K–Gr. 3.
This biography weaves between one-time lawyer Henri Matisse’s dreary reality, rendered in pencil shades of black, white, and gray, and the yearning, vivid world of his imagination, depicted in full-color pencil, paint, and collage. This is a great introduction and a validation of dreamers who follow their yearnings.
Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews. By Kathleen Benson. Illus. by Benny Andrews. 2015. Clarion, $16.99 (9780544104877). Gr. 2–4.
Born in Georgia in 1930, African American artist Benny Andrews started to draw when he was three and never stopped. His art reflected the people around him, from jazz musicians to civil rights activists. The folk art–style illustrations mirror his painting style, imitating his fabric collages and tactile brushstrokes.
Edward Hopper Paints His World. By Robert Burleigh. Illus. by Wendell Minor. 2014. Holt, $17.99 (9780805087529). Gr. 1–4.
Full-page gouache paintings reminiscent of Hopper originals complement the straightforward, accessible text about his life and the development of his unique style. In the illustrations, Hopper is always looking intently at something, emphasizing how his art arose from studied observation of the world around him.
Face Book. By Chuck Close. 2012. Abrams, $18.95 (9781419701634). Gr. 5–8.
In text inspired by informal, ongoing interviews with a class of fifth-graders, Close talks about his paintings and life, including overcoming his physical disabilities: life-long dyslexia and a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound. A series of interactive portraits can be flipped and overlaid to create new combinations of Close’s faces.
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. By Michelle Markel. Illus. by Amanda Hall. 2012. Eerdmans, $17 (9780802853646). K–Gr. 3.
This sweet and simple biography captures both Rousseau’s personality and the essence of his painting. Panned by critics, Rousseau continued to believe in himself, and experimented and grew and was finally recognized as a master. The rich, vibrant illustrations are a credible homage to Rousseau’s naive style.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. By Duncan Tonatiuh. Illus. by the author. 2015. Abrams, $18.95 (9781419716478). Gr. 3–5.
Celebrated Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada drew calaveras: Day of the Dead skeletons. His lithography, engraving, and etching are explained in cartoonlike panels, and engaging questions guide readers through digital collages mimicking his energy, vibrant colors, and rhythmic arrangements.
George Bellows: Painter with a Punch! By Robert Burleigh. Illus. by George Bellows. 2012. Abrams, $18.95 (9781419701665). Gr. 3–5.
Ashcan School artist George Bellows captured the seamier side of early twentieth-century New York, choosing subjects like tenements, street life, and underground boxing clubs. The text and reproductions illuminate his gritty urban art. A difficult subject presented aptly, appropriately, and enthusiastically.
Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased. By Amy Novesky. Illus. by Yuyi Morales. 2012. HMH, $16.99 (9780152054205). Gr. 1–3.
This fictional retelling of a sponsored trip to Hawaii, where O’Keeffe was expected to promote and glorify pineapples, emphasizes her stubbornness in choosing her own subjects (surprisingly enough, not pineapples). The lovely, imaginative writing blends well with the lush, almost sensual, stunning artwork.
Henri’s Scissors. By Jeanette Winter. Illus. by the author. 2013. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $16.99 (9781442464841). K–Gr. 3.
Small, square-frame illustrations, a gentle narrative, and a celebratory spirit provide a clear, sensitive portrait of Henri Matisse, story and soul alike, tracing his career as it evolved from paintings to paper cutouts. Final lovely thought: “Are some of the stars we see at night coming from Henri’s scissors? Perhaps.”
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse. By Patricia MacLachlan. Illus. by Hadley Hooper. 2014. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781596439481). K–Gr. 3.
The text consists of two long, lyrical sentences that explain how Matisse strove to incorporate inspirations from his childhood into his art. Vivid block-print illustrations juxtapose young and old versions of Matisse through expansive spreads that fill pages, communicating the emotional impact of his iconic imagery.
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw. By Don Tate. Illus. by R. Gregory Christie. 2012. Lee & Low, $17.95 (9781600602603). Gr. 2–4.
Born into slavery in 1854, African American artist Bill Traylor saved up his memories until he was 85 years old, and then started producing “outsider art” during a 10-year career that ended with his death in 1949. Acrylic and gouache illustrations reflect his unique style. This is an inspiring introduction to the folk artist and his amazing life.
Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem. By Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Illus. by Christopher Myers. 2015. Museum of Modern Art, $18.95 (9780870709654). Gr. 2–4.
African American painter Jacob Lawrence found inspiration all around him as he grew up in 1930s Harlem, eventually developing a style he called “dynamic cubism.” The emulating illustrations explode with vibrant energy, bold hues, and expressionist shapes, complementing the colorful, energetic text.
Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! By Jonah Winter. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. 2012. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9780545132916). Gr. 2–4.
Art and text combine to capture Picasso’s lifelong, ever-changing creativity through a combustible, ebullient, and disconcerting design. The unusual presentation and hopscotch offerings of biographical facts will lure readers into wanting to know more about this ever-evolving, always excelling artist.
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing. By Kay A. Haring. Illus. by Robert Neubecker. 2017. Dial, $16.99 (9780525428190). K–Gr. 3.
Haring’s sister offers an upbeat, celebratory account about a passionate boy who drew on any surface, from canvas to buildings, using chalk, spray paint, or whatever was handy, demonstrating his commitment to sharing art in public places. The colorful illustrations mirror and cleverly integrate some original works.
Magritte’s Apple. By Klaas Verplancke. Illus. by the author. 2016. Museum of Modern Art, $19.95 (9781633450165). K–Gr. 2.
Clever illustrations and an approachable, kid-friendly text take on René Magritte and his groundbreaking surrealistic art. Seen through the author’s imagination, Magritte’s strange images become palatable, and readers learn that sometimes it’s better to let freewheeling imagination and experimentation run wild.
Magritte’s Marvelous Hat. By D. B. Johnson. Illus. by the author. 2012. HMH, $16.99 (9780547558646). PreS–Gr. 3.
René Magritte, cast as a dog, roams around Paris, appearing in scenes that blur lines between perception and imagination. Crisp, polished illustrations imitate Magritte’s upbeat absurdity. This jovial, peculiar outing is both an accessible pseudobiography (arf!) and an entertaining, nonsensical adventure.
Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter. By Barbara Herkert. Illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. 2015. Holt, $17.99 (9781627790161). K–Gr. 3.
Concise lines of text highlight major points in Mary Cassatt’s life, including her fateful introduction to some appreciative impressionists—when Cassatt reportedly said her life truly began. The lush paintings beautifully evoke her signature style in this warm introduction to a pioneering artist.
Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes. By Jeanette Winter. Illus. by the author. 2014. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781442499027). K–Gr. 3.
Shy, self-taught assemblage artist Joseph Cornell spent his whole life in the same house. Dreams and memories inspired his iconic shadow boxes, rendered here in fuzzy, blue tones, complemented by blocky, childlike illustrations meant to invoke his childhood. This is a breezy introduction to an uncommon artist.
Mr. Matisse and His Cutouts. By Annemarie van Haeringen. Illus. by the author. Tr. by Jan Michael. 2016. North-South, $16.95 (9780735842632). PreS–Gr. 3.
Henri Matisse started experimenting with paper cutouts while recovering from stomach surgery. Story-like but accurate text and amazing illustrations soar beyond basic facts, capturing Matisse’s initial frustration and then eventual exuberance in finding a new way to express his artistic visions.
The Noisy Paint Box: The Color and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art. By Barb Rosenstock. Illus. by Mary GrandPré. 2014. Knopf, $17.99 (9780307978486). K–Gr. 2.
Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky’s groundbreaking, representational, and sound-inspired art was met with widespread critical skepticism. We see him here as a boy, first discovering the joy and satisfaction of experimenting with different mediums. This is an accessible way to introduce this pioneer in abstract art.
Painting Pepette. By Linda Ravin Lodding. Illus. by Claire Fletcher. 2016. little bee, $17.99 (9781499801361). PreS–Gr. 2.
A young Parisian girl commissions her pet rabbit’s portrait and meets four eccentric painters, each expressing their own suggestion about how to proceed (knowledgeable readers will easily recognize each impressionist and their style). When she raises objections to their ideas, she’s taught an important lesson about perception. The subtle, sweet illustrations round out this fantasy.
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire. By Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville. Illus. by Brigette Barrager. 2017. Atheneum, $17.99 (9781481461313). PreS–Gr. 3.
Rule-following, color-within-the-lines male Disney employees disparaged Mary Blair’s vivid art creations, until, in frustration, she quit. Walt hired her back, and she eventually created “It’s a Small World.” The whimsical, imaginative illustrations swirl off the pages, encouraging kids to share their own views of the world.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day. By Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illus. by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. 2016. Viking, $18.99 (9780425287682). Gr. 2–5.
Acrylic-and-pencil collages mimic artwork from Ezra Jack Keats’ books, skillfully illuminating the text, which consists of a lyrical tribute poem that blends in biographical facts, historic context, nods to magic realism, and imagined future possibilities. This imaginative treatment is a heartfelt salute to a much-loved author.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. By Javaka Steptoe. Illus. by the author. 2016. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316213882). K–Gr. 2.
Based on a 2010 film, this book’s illustrations splash across pages, evoking Jean-Michel Basquiat’s exuberant, colorful, and playful art style: “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still beautiful.” This is an engaging and age-appropriate introduction to a one-of-a-kind artist.
Roy’s House. By Susan Goldman Rubin. Illus. by Roy Lichtenstein. 2016. Chronicle, $15.99 (9781452111858). K–Gr. 3.
A whimsical house tour introduces young readers to Roy Lichtenstein’s animated comic-style art. Perfectly aligned text captures his playful tone and sensibility (including some iconic speech balloon asides). Not a biography, but rather a lighthearted and engaging approach to Lichtenstein and pop art.
The Sleeping Gypsy. By Mordicai Gerstein. Illus. by the author. 2016. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823421428). K–Gr. 3.
Meditative acrylic-and-digital artwork evokes an eerie tone, effectively melding with text that weaves a tale about a dream that might have provided inspiration for Henri Rousseau’s African desert masterpiece. This is an engaging and imaginative introduction to Rousseau and his Postimpressionist primitive art.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. By Jen Bryant. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. 2013. Knopf, $17.99 (9780375867125). Gr. 1–4.
Self-taught African American artist Horace Pippin used his left arm to draw on wood using a hot poker, after his right arm was shattered in WWI. His naïve burnt-wood art panels were inspired by family stories, the Bible, and his combat experiences. This is a fascinating biography aptly illustrated in a folk-art style.
Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky. By Barb Rosenstock. Illus. by Mary GrandPré. 2017. Knopf, $17.99 (9781101937105). K–Gr. 3.
Van Gogh’s restless spirit and creative impulses are showcased in this expressive picture-book biography. Following Van Gogh through failed attempts at school and jobs, the text gently but truthfully presents many of the challenges of his adult life, until painting finally gives him a direction. GrandPré’s gorgeously rendered acrylic, pen, and watercolor illustrations pay homage to Van Gogh’s style without simply imitating it.
Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity. By Sarah Suzuki. Illus. by Ellen Weinstein. 2017. Museum of Modern Art, $19.95 (9781633450394). Gr. 4–7.
Always fascinated with dots, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dotted canvases weren’t really appreciated until she left Japan and moved to New York City. The spare text and illustrations use vibrant colors to evoke her swirling perspectives and incorporate many of her joyfully boisterous scenes.
Kathleen McBroom has worked in public, academic, and school libraries, with students ranging from preschoolers through postgraduates. She currently works with the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham, Michigan, and with the Wayne State University School of Information Sciences as a School Library Media Practicum Coordinator.
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