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A New Picture Book about the Birth of American Art

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Author and cartoonist Hudson Talbott has delivered a new picture book: Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art (ages 6 – 8). It is an excellent biography  of the painter who founded the first truly American art movement, the Hudson River School.

Born in England in 1801, Cole came to America after seeing industrialization darken the natural beauty of the English countryside. He fell in love with the American wilderness but eventually saw people and commerce encroaching on nature in his adopted land as well. At the same time, in Cole’s trips to Italy he wondered at the Roman Empire and why it rose and fell. Talbot points out that Cole combined these two influences in his first great series of paintings, The Course of Empire. It is a series of five paintings that once made Cole the most famous painter in America.

Cole’s paintings gave people thought as did his later series of eight paintings known as The Voyage of Life. Talbott ‘s book presents both The Course of Empire and The Voyage of Life in the context of Cole’s birth, move to America, and lifespan. The book includes Cole’s journeys on foot across Pennsylvania, his finding love, and much more. The picture book biography traces Cole’s life to show how he created a new school of painting. Roughly two dozen artists have ties to the Hudson River School.

Hudson Talbott did a great job including an amazing amount of information and detail in a short picture book. He did that in a way that remains accessible to readers in grades one through three.

Ted Macaluso is the author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox: A Mischievous Adventure through the Paintings of Vincent van Gogh for ages 4 – 10. He lives in Reston, Virginia.

Text © 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

 

This text includes affiliate links to books, which means that Amazon.com pays me a few pennies if you end up buying the book through the link. You don’t have to buy anything if you follow the link. If you do buy, your cost is the same whether or not you buy through the affiliate link. The pennies are way to few to influence what I write about a book.

 

A Painter from America’s Past Holds a Message for Today

In the 1800s, painter Thomas Cole gave a chilling warning about environmental destruction and political excess.

 

Painter Thomas Cole founded the first truly American art movement, the Hudson River School. Starting in the Hudson River valley in New York’s Catskill Mountains, the school specialized in romantic paintings of the North (and eventually South) American wilderness.

In the 1830s, Cole created a series of five paintings that made him the most famous artist in America. Known as The Course of Empire, the artworks give a chilling warning about environmental destruction and political excess. They are as relevant to America today as they were to the America of 1836.

Born in England in 1801, Cole came to America after seeing industrialization darken the natural beauty of the English countryside. He fell in love with the American wilderness but eventually saw people and commerce encroaching on nature in his adopted land as well. At the same time, in Cole’s trips to Italy he wondered at the Roman Empire and why it rose and fell. These two influences came together in Cole’s mind when he created The Course of Empire.

The five-painting series starts with nature in all its pristine glory, shows the rise and fall of human empire, and concludes with nature reclaiming the land.

The first painting in the series, titled The Course of Empire, shows the original wild beauty of America.

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The second in the series, The Arcadian, depicts people living in harmony with nature.

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The third painting, The Consummation of the Empire, shows the empire rising to glory, with nature barely visible as people and buildings cover the land.

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Then, the fourth, Destruction, depicts the fall of empire as people fight with each other and nature destroys the buildings and monuments with waves and storms.

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The final painting in the series, Desolation, finds nature reclaiming the ruins.

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It was a potent message in 1836. Now, with global warming leading to rising seas and increasingly destructive storms; with the extinction of thousands of species; and with political dysfunction fraying at the fabric of American values; The Course of Empire is a chilling warning about what might be.

Or, about what might be avoided. Cole’s paintings gave people thought and America continued to industrialize, expand, and become a world power. The artwork did not stop those developments. By making people think, however, Cole’s work supported environmental movements and are among the influences that led America to create one of the best natural park systems in the world. My hope is that remembering these paintings will encourage all of us to do what we can to heal the political and ecological wounds hurting today’s America and the world.

Cole created a new school of painting; no small achievement. Roughly two dozen artists have ties to the Hudson River School. If interested, one can visit the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. It has trails with guided tours that take you to the locations where many of the paintings were created.

Ted Macaluso is the author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox: A Mischievous Adventure through the Paintings of Vincent van Gogh for ages 4 – 10. He lives in Reston, Virginia.

Text © 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

 

 

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.

7 Art Books Children Will Love

The secret to finding books that get kids engaged with art and art history is simple: find books that go beyond the facts of an artist’s biography to address important themes about life.

With hundreds of picture books about art available, finding the ones that have meaning for your child can feel daunting. Here are seven picture books that stick with young readers and engage their imagination.

1. Just Behave, Pablo Picasso!  by Jonah Winter (Author) and Kevin Hawkes (Illustrator) is about Picasso and his art but, even more, it is about courage and standing up to mean comments. Winter turns Picasso’s life into a drama. By doing that, the story reaches into the heart of every child who is told to “just behave.” It can touch every child who needs inner strength to pursue a dream in the face of criticism. The book starts with a canvas of a peaceful landscape. Turn the page, and a young Picasso is bursting through that same canvas. When art dealers tell Picasso his new work is terrible, Picasso “expands himself to a height of one hundred feet” and shouts, “The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good sense!’” What a marvelous way to relate to the intense feelings of children. Readers feel what it means to resist the judgments of peers and forge one’s own path. Ages 4 to 8.

2. Children intuitively know that perseverance in the face of adversity is the way to succeed. They don’t always know how to persevere or how to overcome the constraints of disability. In Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Mark Lang, children learn about a Canadian painter who, through force of will, created images of joy despite a hard life. Lewis was born with several birth defects, had rheumatoid arthritis, and was dirt poor. Her husband was a fish peddler and they lived in a house without electricity and indoor plumbing. Despite these challenges, she persevered, and became famous slowly, over time. Lewis’ house—which she turned into a work of art—is now a part of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. In addition to illustrating what self-determination means, the book introduces children to a less known female artist and to folk art. Ages 8 to 12.

3. Imagine! by Raúl Colón is a pure picture book: there are no words. Yet it tells a beautiful story based on the author’s life. Colón became a highly acclaimed children’s book illustrator. But growing up, he had only visited one museum, the American Museum of Natural History. He learned to draw by copying what he saw in comic books and on the printed page. His first visit to an art museum — the Museum of Modern Art — was as an adult. He responded to van Gogh’s Starry Night like a child and was overwhelmed with emotions. Imagine! shows the creative adventure he might have had (and that anyone might have) if visiting an art museum as a child. In the book, a young boy skateboards by the Museum of Modern Art and decides to go in. Artwork by Picasso, Rousseau, and Matisse step off the canvas and follow him around New York City. At the end of the day, when the imagined art returns to the museum and the boy returns home, something very touching happens. I won’t spoil the ending by giving it away, but it is wonderful. Ages 4 to 8.

4. Anna and Johanna: A Children’s Book Inspired by Jan Vermeer by Géraldine Elschner (author) and Florence Kœnig (illustrator) takes its inspiration from two of Vermeer’s paintings: The Milkmaid and The Lacemaker. The author noticed that the women in the paintings look like they could be sisters, despite the fact that one is a servant and the other upper class. This sets the stage for an imaginative mystery tale set in the Dutch city of Delft.  It takes a real event – an explosion at a gunpowder magazine in 1654  – to show how two women react to a secret shared in a letter. Ages 4 to 8.

5. This next book is about a woman who writes and illustrates picture books. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life is by and about Lois Ehlert, one of the most gifted picture book makers of our time. It is incredibly colorful, has many craft lessons for readers, and shows what it is like to be an artist. It addresses where inspiration comes from. I especially liked the time when Ehlert’s sister’s cat brushed her ankles. No spoilers here, but I recommend reading the page where she shows two versions of the story that grew out of that incident. Ehlert is a recipient of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Artist Award for lifelong innovation in the field of children’s books. What a role model for an aspiring young artist. Ages 5 to 10.

6. How do you step out and claim your own voice? It’s a question every child faces. Giving an answer makes a book relevant and engaging. Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist David Diaz, is one of many books about artistic pioneer Frida Kahlo. What I like about this book is that it focuses on Frida’s time in San Francisco. This is where she found her inspiration to step out and find fame on her own, separate from the shadow of her husband and mentor, Diego Rivera. The book shows Frida and Diego exploring the city. How familiar is this: he expresses an opinion; Frida disagrees? When the couple explore towering redwood groves Diego feels empowered; Frida falls asleep. Gradually, she explores the city on her own, focusing on the things that appeal to her. There is a great illustration where, out of the blue, Frida starts to sing Mexican songs at a party to honor Diego. That night, she painted a picture that made her famous. It was a portrait of her and Diego. As in life, he was big, and she was small. However, in the portrait, in a ribbon in the beak of a bird, she puts her name first. Unlike many other children’s books on Kahlo (which, overall, give more information about her life and art), Me, Frida recognizes the significance of this step. In the story, it occurs in a context in which its meaning makes sense. Ages 5 to 7.

7. Written by Shane Peacock and illustrated by Sophie Casson, The Artist and Me is a picture book about both bullying and Vincent van Gogh. The artist was misunderstood during his life and tormented by both inner demons and public criticism of his appearance and eccentric behavior. The contrast between van Gogh, the artistic genius, and van Gogh, the disheveled human man, became intense when he moved to the French country town of Arles. Van Gogh created some of his most beloved paintings in the few months that he lived in Arles. But he had few friends there, many of the townsfolk complained about him, and their children would tease him. The book takes an approach to the facts of van Gogh’s life that is relevant to the times we live in. The protagonist is fictional and nameless–one of the many children who teased van Gogh. The text captures the difference between a private child, who is secretly fascinated by van Gogh’s paintings (which he sees while spying on van Gogh from a hiding place), and a public bully who was mean in crowds “since that is what cowards do.” The ending is a lesson about how bullies can change and grow. It is also a lesson about the rewards of artistic integrity. The illustrations capture not just the meanness of bullying but also the yellow, green and gold hues of the French country side memorialized in van Gogh’s work. The text is lyrical and subtle. It works like the best picture books should, with the pictures telling and foreshadowing the story in partnership with the words. Ages 5 to 9. 

case8.000x10.000.inddTed Macaluso is the author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox: A mischievous adventure through the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, an adventure story for kids about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (ages 4 to 10). Kirkus Reviews calls it “a charming unique way to introduce youngsters to great art while providing an important message.” He 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.

Book Holiday

No, not a break from books, but holiday gifts for the book lovers in your life.

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You know it’s going to happen. You’re at a party or meeting with one or more writers and someone will have a literary-themed tee shirt or tote. Not just any tee or tote but a really cool item. Like me, you may have a frisson of jealousy. 

Here’s an opportunity to be better than that. Obvious State is one of the companies where you can buy these really cool objects of identity. They’re not paying me — I stumbled on their website and said to myself, “Ted, you have to share.” The image above is theirs. 

Here are two more examples from the firm’s website: a poster for the Shakespeare lovers among us (with a quote about fools) and a tote for those who wish to accessorize with Jane Austen.

Obvious State has a lot of items book lovers might like.  

Having stumbled across one company, I quickly figured there had to be other firms like them. (Us writers are smart, know how to research things. Right?)  

Sure enough, searching for “literary gifts” on the world’s most ubiquitous search engine revealed… The Literary Gift Company. (Did you ever have that brought-down-to-earth feeling? What did Shakespeare say about fools?) 

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The Literary Gift Company is not paying me and is also cool. One of my favorite categories on their website is socks.  If you love Sherlock Holmes or The Little Prince, go for it.

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Keep someone’s feet warm. And Happy Holidays.

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. His book, Vincent, Theo and the Fox, is a fictional adventure about the young Vincent van Gogh that teaches about growing up and learning from failure (for ages 4 – 10). He lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

Text © 2018 by Ted Macaluso.