Six Children’s Books About Artists That Also Teach About Life

Children’s biographies of famous painters teach about an artist’s work and life. A few books go beyond that and use an artist’s life as a way to convey deeper lessons and virtues.

Stories of courage, compassion, standing up for oneself, choosing a path in life, or overcoming adversity are important for children. Finding those themes in the context of the arts gives the readers of such books an experience that goes beyond facts and inspires them to think about their own life choices.

Here are six books that can both educate and inspire young readers (uses affiliate links).

51hlarmxwil-_sx425_bo1204203200_Themes: Courage; Standing up to Mean Comments. At one level, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter (author) and Kevin Hawkes (illustrator) is about Picasso’s life and artistic evolution. At a deeper level, the book is about courage in the face of doubt; about the exuberance for life that helped make Picasso one of the prominent painters of the twentieth century. Winter turns Picasso’s life into a drama (rather than a mere retelling of biography). By doing that, the story reaches into the heart of every child who is told to “just behave,” of every child who needs to find the inner strength to pursue a dream in the face of harsh criticism. The illustrations reinforce the drama of the story. The book starts with a peaceful landscape. But, turn the page, and a young Picasso is bursting through that same canvas. When art dealers tell Picasso his new work is terrible and ask why he is abandoning prior styles that made money, 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.

61048cn65vl-_sx362_bo1204203200_ Themes: Compassion; Bonds Forged by Fathers and Sons. Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt is based on a true story in Vincent van Gogh’s life. The book recounts how Camille and his father, the postman Roulin, help van Gogh when he was a poor stranger arriving in town. The father models good behavior and Camille becomes friends with van Gogh, despite area children who tease the artist. When Camille feels helpless, because he cannot defend his new friend, his father helps him. Camille learns compassion and hope from his father and from his friendship with van Gogh. The book is about the facts of van Gogh’s life but it is also about a boy learning what compassion means.

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 Themes: Perseverance, Overcoming 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. The details of Lewis’ life are fascinating, but the book is really about the artist’s self-determination. 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 (rather than suddenly–another good lesson for today’s children). 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.

 Vincent cover 17x10-5 2-11 half for v3-3Themes: Growing Up, Learning from Failure.  Vincent, Theo and the Fox is written by Ted Macaluso (full disclosure, that’s me) and illustrated by Vincent van Gogh. The book is a fable about van Gogh’s life that addresses growing up and figuring out what one wants to do in life. We all know that van Gogh became a painter, but he didn’t go there directly, trying a number of different jobs first. So as a boy in a story there is wonder and mystery when Vincent thinks about growing up. In the story, the fox was young too—he was also trying to grow up and find his way in the world. So the book has two boys and a fox thinking about growing up and through their actions teaching each other about what to do in the face of failure and, eventually, success. Full-color reproductions of 30 van Gogh masterpieces illustrate the story. A brief, factual biography of van Gogh ties the events in the story to van Gogh’s life.

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 Theme: It’s Never Too Late to Pursue your Dream. At first, one might think that the story of a toll-collector who didn’t start painting until he was 40 years old, would hold little interest for a child. But the lesson–just because you haven’t started, it doesn’t mean you can’t still do it—applies to every age, especially children who procrastinate over homework or have self-doubt. In The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hale, we learn that “not a single person has ever told him he is talented.” But Rousseau wants to paint anyway. “Why? Because he loves nature.” And so he does. Teaching himself, mocked by experts, doing it over and over again, until—like The Little Engine That Could—he succeeds. One of my favorite parts of the book comes when Henri is 61. He is too poor to ever travel to a real jungle. And then we read, “It doesn’t matter—he sees one before him. Clear as day.” The story tells the facts of Rousseau’s life in a way that can inspire children to appreciate art and to pursue their dreams.

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Theme: Inspiration Strikes When You Least Expect: Listen to It, Believe in Yourself. Langston Hughes was a poet, not a painter, but Langston’s Train Ride, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, enables readers to experience the magic moment, that single instant, when inspiration comes. The story starts at a moment of success in Hughes’ life and flashes back to his youth, when he was riding a train to Mexico to meet his father “who left us to fend for ourselves when I was just a little boy.” As the train crosses the Mississippi, three words come to Langston, “I’ve known rivers.” From that, comes one of the first poems that made Hughes famous. The magic of this book is that the writing and the pictures combine so that readers experience the train ride, the buildup of thoughts that led to the words, and how Hughes captured them and expanded upon them. The book teaches facts about Hughes’ life but draws readers in to experience the creative process and how one learns to believe in oneself.

Books that go beyond the facts of an artist’s biography to address important themes about life are ones that stick with young readers and engage their imagination. The books above are just a start. If you want to suggest others, please add them in a comment, below. I would love to hear from you. And always encourage your child to read.

 – Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso writes books for kids that make art more fun. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. The author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox, he now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, son, and kind hearted dog. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely reproduced but please include attribution back to tedmacaluso.com.

Eight books for kids about female pioneers in the arts

How do women become pioneers in the arts? How do they shine apart from their male colleagues? Eight delightful children’s books hold valuable lessons that make art more fun for aspiring female artists.

American ballerina, Misty Copeland, a pioneer in her own right, recently made headlines flawlessly recreating some of Edgar Degas’s famous ballet paintings. A pairing of female and male artistic giants is not unusual: Degas and painter Mary Cassatt, for example, were friends for years. Other examples include Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as painter Georgia O’Keefe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. But how do female artists come to shine apart from male colleagues and gain the spotlight for themselves?

513xtv9ozll-_sy454_bo1204203200_Copeland, of course, is already famous in her own right (see the 2015 documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale). She also wrote an award-winning picture book, Firebird, for any girl whose confidence is fragile but who also yearns to reach the heights Misty has.

Here are 7 additional children’s books about other pioneering female artists, both well-known and less well-known (note: uses affiliate links).

51tsflvev5l-_sx398_bo1204203200_Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Newberry honor winner Margarita Engle and illustrator Rafael Lopez, tells the fascinating story of Millo Castro Zaidarriaga. In 1932 she broke through a Cuban traditional belief that only boys should play drums. She played alongside the greats of American jazz and became a world-famous musician. The text is a poem that paints captivating word images. The illustrations capture her father’s initial disapproval, her dreams, her actions to keep her dream alive, and her father’s eventual transformation. The illustration that moved me the most was a two-page vertical spread of Millo looking up at the ceiling where a bird cage holds a trapped bongo drum with wings. Great book!

51zvardrfol-_sy452_bo1204203200_Capturing Joy – The Story of Maud Lewis, written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Mark Lang, gives the fascinating story of a Canadian folk art painter who was born with birth defects, was poor, and lived with rheumatoid arthritis. Maud Lewis married a fish peddler. In the home where they lived there was no electricity and no indoor plumbing. The book is about her self-determination to overcome these obstacles and create images of joy. Unlike the instant fame that Hollywood portrays, the book shows that Lewis became famous slowly (a message I think valuable). Lewis eventually turned her whole house into a work of art and it is now part of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

51ykl0jup7l-_sx411_bo1204203200_Georgia O’Keefe followed a unique, sometimes controversial, path to becoming one of America’s greatest painters. Her relationship with the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz is, perhaps, too complicated for young readers. Two picture books, however, do a good job of showing how Georgia saw the world and what motivated her to follow her own path. Originally published in 1998, My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of51j0rxzxnil-_sx402_bo1204203200_ the Year and made the New York Public Library’s “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.” Through Georgia’s Eyes by Rachel Rodriguez and illustrated by Julie Paschkis also focuses on how Georgia saw the world. The illustrations are beautiful and the book’s goal is to convey Georgia’s “singular perspective as a woman artist in her time.”

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, sepa61pbefdi9wl-_sy481_bo1204203200_rate 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.  Estupendo!

Mary Cassatt: Family Pictures (Smart About Art) by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Jennifer Kalis is a fun read. It takes the form of a school report by “Claire” who has such wonderful observations as:

“I thought that Mary would be a shy, gentle person. Wrong again! Mary had a bad temper and an opinion on everything. During dinner parties, if her guests said something she disagreed with, she’d bang her fists on the table.”

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The book has a lot of information about Cassatt and contains paintings she did as well as paintings that influenced her. We find out that Cassatt did few paintings of men because, back then, it was not respectable for a single woman to use men as models. Despite a 40 year friendship with Edgar Degas we find that they never married. It intrigues “Claire” that, before she died, Cassatt burned all the letters Degas had written her. Overall, the book shows that even in the 1800’s women could be independent; it shows that Mary wanted nothing more than to be a great artist and, by golly, that is what she became.

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Finally, how about a book about a woman who writes and illustrates books? The Scraps Book: Notes From a Colorful Life is both 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.

These books will stick with young readers and engage their imagination. Check them out in the library, your favorite bookseller, or through the links above.

– Ted Macaluso

Ted Macaluso is the author of Vincent, Theo and the Fox, an adventure story for kids based on the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Born in Brooklyn, he was a successful researcher on child nutrition and hunger before turning full-time to writing. He now lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife, kind hearted dog, and temperamental word processor. His son is in college. Find out more at tedmacaluso.com.

 

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso. May be freely copied provided attribution and a link to http://www.tedmacaluso.com is included.

Kids Books On Vincent van Gogh

Thanks so much for considering Vincent, Theo and the Fox Some other books about van Gogh are the following:

Vincent’s Colors. This gem of a book was written by van Gogh (through his letters to his brother) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The hardbound book introduces young (and old) readers to the colors of the rainbow by showing the artist’s words and paintings together.

Camille and the Sunflowers was published in 1994 but still enchants readers today. Laurence Anholt wrote and illustrated this story based on a true-life incident. See also van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books For Children) by the same author.

 

Visiting Vincent Van Gogh displays  some of the artists paintings and discusses how they reveal his life and emotions.

Katie and the Starry Night by author/illustrator James Mayhew is a classic. What’s Katie to do when she reaches into a painting and all the stars tumble out?

Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars by author/illustrator Joan Holub is part of the Smart About Art series. A fictional “Brad” writes a report about the artist.

Children’s Educational Book: Junior Vincent van Gogh: A Kid’s Introduction to the Artist and his Paintings by Fiona Holt is part of the “Smart Reads for Kids” series.

In the Garden with Van Gogh is a board book by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober.

What’s So Great About Van Gogh?: A Guide to Vincent Van Gogh Just For Kids! I have not read this book by Max Tanner. The book is intended to show children why van Gogh was so important for the world.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Cat is an art project written and illustrated by  Indiana Second Grade Students of East Washington Academy in Muncie

Twenty-Four Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings (Collection) for Kids by Stanley Cesar has mixed reviews on Amazon since there are no explanations for kids despite the title.

Parental warning – the books below include discussion of when van Gogh cut off his ear. Probably not for very young children.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book by the American Library Association. Ages 10 and up.

Vincent van Gogh – A Short Biography for Kids by Josephine Madden. This Kindle-only book is 14 pages.

Van Gogh (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venetia is part of a series.

Vincent Van Gogh (Art Profiles for Kids). Jim Whiting’s book is for ages 10 and up. It traces how van Gogh was tormented but continued to paint to express his feelings.

 

Happy Reading!

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso

7 Children’s Gifts To Tickle The Imagination

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching here are 4 books, a game, and 2 surprises worth checking out.

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching here are 4 books, a game, and 2 surprises worth checking out.

The Book with No Pictures Book with no pix

“This picture book with no pictures knows a thing or two about both books and kid-friendly comedy . . . Once children get the joke, they’ll want to play it on as many of their grownups as possible.”— The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

This book for 5 – 8 year olds has a 4.7 stars on Amazon.

4.7 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

Bugs in the Kitchen – Children’s Board Game 

Ths game won the ASTRA Best Toys for Kids 2015 award (Game Play 6+ Years). The suggested age range is 6-15.

Check it out here.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox

“It’s a compelling and suspenseful story that has a wonderful ending.  It makes van Gogh’s paintings even more memorable.

“This is the first book I’ve read where the illustrations are storied instead of the story being illustrated.  It’s a fun twist! It’s also one of the few stories where the illustrations are presented from a first-person perspective….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!”
The Picture Book Review (thepicturebookreview.com/)

5 stars on Amazon – Check it out here.

Fred & Friends MEALTIME MASTERPIECE Picture Frame Placemat, 48 Sheet Pad

MEALTIME MASTERPIECE Picture Frame Placemat

Who would have thought? A placemat that looks like a picture frame so you can arrange your food into a work of art. It is a 48 pad set.

4.5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

Wonder 

This book by R. J. Palacio is a N.Y. Times and Amazon best seller for 8 – 12 year olds.

“Wonder is a rare gem of a novel–beautifully written and populated by characters who linger in your memory and heart. August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who likes Star Wars and Xbox, ordinary except for his jarring facial anomalies. Homeschooled all his life, August heads to public school for fifth grade and he is not the only one changed by the experience–something we learn about first-hand through the narratives of those who orbit his world. August’s internal dialogue and interactions with students and family ring true, and though remarkably courageous he comes across as a sweet, funny boy who wants the same things others want: friendship, understanding, and the freedom to be himself. “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Amazon “best Book” review.

5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

US NATIONAL PARKS. Post card variety pack

I would not usually think of a box of postcards as a gift, but if you want to enhance a child’s imagination how better to have children dream and (hopefully) mark the places they have visited. And you do not have to stop with just the parks. There are sets of cards from all around America, from Europe, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

5 stars on Amazon- see this and other postcard sets here.

 

The Phantom Tollbooth 

Norton Juster’s hilarious book illustrated by Jules Feiffer is such a classic I cannot say enough good things about it! If you’re not already familiar with it, check it out.

4.5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

 

 

© 2015 by Ted Macaluso

 

Children’s books about van Gogh

Thank you for looking at Vincent, Theo and the Fox. If you are interested in other children’s books about Vincent van Gogh, here are some to consider. Clicking the links below takes you to the Amazon.com page about the book or item (you don’t have to buy it).

Vincent’s Colors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art – a beautiful book with factual text about van Gogh arranged as a rhyme.

Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars (Smart About Art) In this book “Brad” tells about van Gogh in the form of a school report featuring many drawings by Brad and some reproductions of van Gogh’s art.

van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children) A story based on a true incident in which a young boy brings some sunflowers to a stranger, who turns out to be van Gogh. The book primarily use Laurence Anholt’s illustrations with some reproductions of van Gogh.

The Starry Night. Neil Waldman’s illustrations shows Van Gogh-inspired paintings of Manhattan, but not van Gogh’s paintings.

The books above are all great. Here’s how Vincent, Theo and the Fox complements them: Vincent, Theo and the Fox introduces children who want an adventure story to the actual paintings of Vincent van Gogh. It helps parents, teachers, and grandparents motivate children to learn about art and visit museums. Its unique advantages are that it has over 30 full-color reproductions of van Gogh’s actual paintings, teaches about growing up and brotherhood as well as about van Gogh, can be read easily and quickly, and is inexpensive compared to many coffee table books.

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More children’s books on van Gogh:
Children’s Educational Book: Junior Vincent van Gogh: A Kid’s Introduction to the Artist and his Paintings. Age 7 8 9 10 year-olds (‘SMART READS for … – Expand & Inspire Young Minds) (Volume 1)