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One of the best ways to encourage young artists is to expose them to the work of famous artists. There have been many books written and illustrated for children that introduce them to the lives, personalities and even the work of the masters. Children can learn about the arts from literature written at their own level and perspective, and be introduced to artistic methods while having their creativity encouraged. As a former preschool art teacher and elementary teacher I often used literature to expand my students horizons. Today I want to share some of my favorites stories with you, as well as additional books about art.
Books that give a general overview of museums, techniques and artistic style and creativity
In Babar’s Museum of Art Babar and Celeste create their very own art museum. The story teaches children some valuable lessons about how to respect art as well as identify and view art.
You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum (Picture Puffin)This wordless book shows the journey of a little girl’s lost yellow balloon (It was untied by a very mischevous pigeon) Even without text the book is so visually stunning, it still tells a remarkable story while cleverly introducing famous paintings and sculptures into the storyline.
The Museum showcases all the feelings a person can have through art, through a little girl as she tours a museum. The storyline has playful rhymes that describe art from a child’s point of view.
The Art Lesson (Paperstar Book) is an incredibly popular favorite story to introduce children to art. The author, Tomie dePaola based the book on his own childhood experiences. The story touches on themes of individuality and copying in art, common school art experiences, and a little boy’s drive to create art however he can.
The beautiful illustrations in Art & Max, by the Caldecott Award winning artist David Weisner are simply stunning. It tells the tale of two lizards. One lizard, Art is a learned painter while the other, Max is full of enthusiasm and zeal to learn. Max didn’t quite know where to begin however, until Art suggested “Well…you could paint me.” The result is a visual journey.
Beautiful Oops! is a great book for those perfectionist children. It teaches them how it’s alright to make a mistake and shows how we can turn our mistakes into creativity. Pop-ups, flaps to lift, tears, bends and more make the book highly interactive.
The popular classic, Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books) tells the story of Harold and his huge imagination, which he sets loose through drawings while armed only with a purple crayon.
Fun, fictional and comedic books about art
Art Dog combines suspense, humor, and drama at a level perfect even for preschoolers. Children will delight as the hero, Art Dog (a mysterious masked painter) sets off to find the missing “Mona Woofa”
When Pigasso Met MootisseThis tale of art and friendship first has the characters as rivals who build a fence in between themselves. However they are led to create a masterpiece and learn about their friendship in the process.
In The Day the Crayons Quitthe readers will find witty letters written by a box of crayons. Each individual crayon has a complaint until finally Duncan, the crayon box owner tackles their issues and forces the crayons to work together.
In Hugo and Miles In I’ve Painted Everything, poor Hugo, decides he has painted everything and is in need of new ideas. Any child who has ever had “artist’s block” or felt a sense of boredom can identify with this humorous romp into the artistic process. There are plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes and references to famous works as well.
Too Much Glue shows how to be creative and crafty. Almost anyone who remembers their grade school glue days can relate to the messy, gooey, craziness of this story. Though not following his teachers instructions, the main character Matty’s finds himself in a bit of an –er..sticky situation, it all turns out for the best in the end.
Books about Famous Artists
The Starry Night by Neil Waldman tells the tale of Bernard, a young boy who meets a painter named Vincent in Central Park. Vincent takes the boy exploring throughout the city, until finally showing him one final big surprise. The result is that Bernard is left with a desire to be an artist himself.
Frida introduces children to Frida Kahlo and how she learned to paint with gorgeous illustrations and a biographical story about her youth, her family and even the events that shaped her. It shares how she channeled her emotions into art, and how challenges in her life drove her.
My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
encourages children to be unique and to appreciate being different. The book journals the journey of Georgia O’Keefe from childhood, through art school, and even into her later years (and of course her time spent in the New Mexico desert) The text is rhythmic and poetic.
Uncle Andy’s was actually written by Andy Warhol’s very own nephew, James Warhola! (Andy dropped the -a from his name) The book illustrates and tells the story of his childhood visits to Andy’s house and it offers a unique perspective of Warhol’s house. Children will delight in his 25 cats, house crammed with unique things, and comedic events such as when Jame’s sister enters upon Andy without his wig.
Action Jackson addresses a small segment of Jackson Pollack’s life. It’s a non-fiction book that poses questions for the readers to ponder about art through the tale of the creation of Pollack’s piece Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist).
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art tells the tale of Vasya Kandinsky, who was sent to art classes with the expectation he would create “proper” art. Instead his desire to paint music, and what he could hear instead led him to be one of the first abstract artists.
In Suzette and the Puppy: A Story About Mary Cassatt (Young readers) a little girl named Suzette (who happens to be the niece of Edgar Degas in the story) meets Mary Cassatt first at a park with her puppy, and then again when Mary comes to paint a portrait of Suzette.
Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder shows how Calder loved to make creations as a child from various objects, and how despite a journey through other jobs he returned to that artistic background to build his famous sculptures.
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau shows how Henri Rousseau overcame some pretty harsh criticism, and continued to paint and paint and paint because of his love for his subjects.
In Degas and the Little Dancer Marie wants to be a ballerina, but her family has no money for lessons. She comes to be a model to earn money, and in turn becomes the inspiration for sculptor, Edgar Degas. It’s a story that shows how life begets art.
Laurence Anholt actually has an entire artist series. Other books in the series also include:
The Magical Garden of Claude Monet (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children)
Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children)
van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists)
Papa Chagall, Tell Us a Story
Matisse the King of Color (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children Series)
Leonardo and the Flying Boy (Anholt’s Artists)
Cezanne and the Apple Boy (Anholt’s Artists)
Renoir and the Boy with the Long Hair
How about art AND music?!
Take the senses even a step further with Can You Hear It? This book combines sight and sound as a CD of classical music including many works by saint saens and vivaldi as well as other composers accompanies the book and children are encouraged to both listen and find items in the book.
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