The best children’s books about art

The Books I Picked & Why

It Jes' Happened

By Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie

It Jes' Happened

Why this book?

My favorite books are the ones with heroes and heroines you don’t expect – the ones that remind you that we can all be heroes and heroines if we find our gifts and persevere until others see and benefit from them, too. That’s what It Jes’ Happened does with this story of Bill Traylor, a formerly enslaved man who began to draw pictures based on his memories of rural and urban life in Alabama. Adding to the wonder of his story, this self-taught artist didn’t start painting until he was 85, reminding us it’s never too late to do what you love. Author Don Tate is best known as an award-winning illustrator, but here he reminds us that he paints with words, too. Meanwhile, R. Gregory Christie’s warm, wistful art helps us see the world through Traylor’s eyes and heart.


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Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler

By Elizabeth Brown, Aimée Sicuro

Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler

Why this book?

When kids think of artists, male names usually come to mind. That’s why I was delighted to discover Dancing Through Fields of Color, a lyrical story about Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist of the 1950s who deserves to be better known. Author Elizabeth Brown shows how Frankenthaler’s difficulty fitting in and creating the art she was told to create ultimately led to her discovering her true gifts and a style that would come to be known as “soak-stain painting.” The rich and joyful colors of Aimee Sicuro’s illustrations of Helen dancing through vibrant flowers, will spark young readers’ imaginations, making them thirst for more.


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Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

By Duncan Tonatiuh

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

Why this book?

The best thing a book about an artist can do is to encourage children to make art, too. That’s what award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh does in this innovative biography of Diego Rivera, one of the most famous painters of the 20th century. Tonatiuh focuses on how Rivera dedicated himself to telling the history and stories of people and places he knew and loved in Mexico by capturing their images. Taking this book to the next level, Tonatiuh then asks his young readers what stories this painter would bring to life today and encourages them to create new images that the world needs to see.


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Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott

By Joyce Scott, Brie Spangler, Melissa Sweet

Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott

Why this book?

All people should have the opportunity to express themselves and share their gifts. Joyce Scott, writing with the help of Brie Spangler, tells the story of her twin sister, Judith Scott, who was born with Down syndrome, was deaf, and never learned to speak. Judith was institutionalized until Joyce, as an adult, was finally able to get her sister out. Joyce welcomed Judith into her home and enrolled her in an art class, hoping to give her something to enjoy. Judith astonished everyone by becoming an acclaimed artist whose work is displayed in museums and galleries around the world.

This is a truly inspiring story of how everyone benefits when each of us is given an opportunity to soar. Joyce Scott’s deep love for her sister Judith jumps off the page in the eloquent narrative by Scott and Spengler. Melissa Sweet’s simple, homespun illustrations capture the anguish of the sisters when they are parted, the joy of their reunion, and the wonder of the world as Judith’s art begins to release its magic.


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Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist

By Julie Leung, Chris Sasaki

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist

Why this book?

Many kids love the Disney animated film Bambi, but how many know they have a Chinese American immigrant to thank for its lush and lovely look? Author Julie Leung tells the moving story of a boy named Wong Geng Yeo who traveled across an ocean from China to America with little more than the immigration papers he needed to start his new life. Chris Sasaki’s delicate illustrations detail how Wong dreamed of making art even as he worked as a janitor at night to pay the bills. The love and care that Tyrus Wong poured into what would become one of the great movies of love, friendship, and, years before The Lion King, of the circle of life, Paper Son is an exquisite reminder of the great gifts that immigrants have brought to America.


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