Three Views of Van Gogh for Children

Three new picture books give complementary views of the artist’s life.

Authors use the same facts differently. That is as true for picture books as it is for books geared to older ages. When you show children a set of books with different perspectives on the same subject, it helps them develop the capacity to think analytically. Doing this with picture books is a great way for younger kids to have fun while learning how to understand and master their world.

Here are three picture books that, together, help children think about the life of painter Vincent van Gogh.

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Vincent Can’t Sleep by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary GrandPré is a biography of the painter told from the hook of children fighting sleep. It looks at van Gogh as a struggling artist driven to express himself and paint the night sky. Ages 4 to 8.

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The Artist and Me by Shane Peacock and illustrated by Sophie Casson uses van Gogh’s time in Arles, France to teach about bullying. It looks at van Gogh as a visionary, bullied for being both poor and different. The story is told by one of the bullies as an adult looking back at what he did and what he learned. Ages 5 to 9.

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Vincent, Theo and the Fox by Ted Macaluso (yes, that’s me) uses van Gogh’s life to teach about growing up and brotherhood. It looks at van Gogh, and his brother Theo, as two young boys who wonder what they should be when they grow up. Chasing a mischievous fox through van Gogh’s paintings they discover the answer to how to be the best you can be when you grow up. Ages 4 to 10.

One artist and three viewpoints. All three perspectives are true, which is the beauty of reading these three books together.

All three books have great reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews called Vincent Can’t Sleep “a soft, sad, lovely introduction to a masterpiece.” Booklist said it is “a beautiful exploration of van Gogh’s influences and achievement.”

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The School Library Journal’s assessment of The Artist and Me is that the book presents “…a troubling issue observed through the lens of art history [and] delivers a meaningful message about individuality and tolerance.”

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Kirkus Reviews called Vincent, Theo and the Fox “a charming, unique way to introduce youngsters to great art while providing an important message.” ThePictureBookReview.com said: “[Vincent, Theo and the Fox] is the first book I’ve read where the illustrations are storied instead of the story being illustrated….It adds a depth of imagination that I’m not used to in picture books. I can’t think of any other picture book doing this–it’s wonderful!” 

Reading all three books can be a powerful experience. Together, they reinforce the reality that Vincent van Gogh was, like each and every one of us is, a complex, many-sided person.

Ted Macaluso lives in Reston, Virginia and blogs about children’s books and art at www.tedmacaluso.com.

Text © 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

Note: Some of the links above are “affiliate links” to Amazon.com, which means that Amazon pays me a few pennies if you end up buying the book through the link here. Your price is the same whether you use the affiliate link or find the book another way. The pennies don’t influence my judgment. These are all books I’ve read and recommend. You’re free to click, look on Amazon, and not buy.

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