The best picture books to inspire the creative artistic spirit

Why am I passionate about this?

As an author, one of my goals is to encourage kids to fall in love with reading–but I’m not an illustrator. I wish I practiced art more as a kid. If I had, maybe I’d be illustrating my own books. If only these five books existed forty years ago, perhaps I wouldn’t have given up on art. So, in addition to falling in love with reading, I’d love to inspire those same kids to keep exploring their artistic sides. I’ve seen how these books invigorate the artistic spirit of creatives and I hope they do the same for you.


I wrote...

Book cover of Dear Unicorn

What is my book about?

Two pen pals receive the shock of a lifetime in this giggle-inducing ode to art, friendship, and keeping an open mind! Connie's class is partnering up with pen pals, and she loves exchanging letters with her new friend, Nic, even though the two of them are polar opposites. Connie takes art seriously, while Nic has a more whimsical approach. But both eagerly await the pen pal art festival where their two classes will finally meet.

But they're in for a shock: Connie doesn't know Nic is a unicorn. And Nic has no clue that Connie is a human. With Josh Funk's signature laugh-out-loud humor and Charles Santoso's explosively fun illustrations, Dear Unicorn is a celebration of art, new friends, and stepping outside your comfort zone.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color

Josh Funk Why did I love this book?

While I’m a fan of all of Denos’ work (her art belongs in galleries–and has been), Swatch has always stuck with me (and my family) as there’s something so simple and raw about trying to ‘tame colors,’ which is what Swatch, the artist, tries to do.

Like so much in life, some colors are easy to tame, and others aren’t, which is why I think this resonates so well with everyone who’s read it. And with those, like me, who’ve read it again. And again. And again.

By Julia Denos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Swatch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

A vibrant picture book featuring an irrepressible new character-perfect for fans of The Dot and Beautiful Oops!-from acclaimed illustrator Julia Denos. In a place where color ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still. Her name was Swatch, and color was her passion. From brave green to in-between gray to rumble-tumble pink ...Swatch wanted to collect them all. But colors don't always like to be tamed...This is an exuberant celebration of all the beauty and color that make up our lives.


Book cover of Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure

Josh Funk Why did I love this book?

It’s amazing what a little crayon can do, especially when it’s broken.

Inspired by Ohi’s viral broken crayon illustrations, Park invites two aliens into the planet of broken crayons where magic is made. It’s amazing what a little friendship and art can do together (hmm, similar theme to Dear Unicorn, now that I think of it). Bonus: check out Ohi’s social media for loads more creative found object artwork.

By Linda Sue Park, Debbie Ridpath Ohi (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gurple and Preen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

This wildly imaginative, crayon-inspired picture book shows that with a bit of teamwork and a universe of creativity, anything is possible!

Buzz!
Zap!
CRASH!

Gurple and Preen are in a big mess!

When they crash-land onto an unfamiliar planet with nothing but boxes of crayons, they must work together to get the mission back on course.

From Newbery Award–winning author Linda Sue Park and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi comes a story about all the best things that can come out of a box of crayons.


Book cover of What If...

Josh Funk Why did I love this book?

For some creatives, nothing can get in their way. No pencil? Fold the paper! No paper? Chisel this, sculpt that, and shape even more.

There’s always something somewhere with which to make art if you keep your imagination open to it. Berger’s lyrical text paired with Curato’s illustrations across many different mediums is *mwah* (chef’s kiss).

By Samantha Berger, Mike Curato (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What If... as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Creativity, the power of imagination, and the importance of self-expression are celebrated in this inspiring picture book written and illustrated by real-life best friends.

This girl is determined to express herself! If she can't draw her dreams, she'll sculpt or build, carve or collage. If she can't do that, she'll turn her world into a canvas. And if everything around her is taken away, she'll sing, dance, and dream...

Stunning mixed media illustrations, lyrical text, and a breathtaking gatefold conjure powerful magic in this heartfelt affirmation of art, imagination, and the resilience of the human spirit.


Book cover of Women In Art: 50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World

Josh Funk Why did I love this book?

Sometimes art is pretty to look at and sometimes art is powerful.

Ignotofsky shares short bios and gorgeous pictures of fifty female artists throughout history and across the globe, most of whom I wasn’t familiar with prior to reading the book. Not only will this book inspire young artists to create, but Women in Art will inspire them to research these artists further, as each one deserves her own picture book biography (some of which already exist!).

By Rachel Ignotofsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women In Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK WITH A GOLD FOIL COVER IS THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR YOUNG BUDDING ARTISTS.

Women in Art is an EMPOWERING and INSPIRATIONAL celebration of some of the most iconic and fearless women who paved the way for the next generation of artists.

From well-known figures such as Frida Kahlo and Dame Vivienne Westwood to lesser-known artists including Harriet Powers (the nineteenth-century African American quilter) and Yoyoi Kusama (a Japenese sculptor), this charmingly illustrated and inspiring book highlights the achievements of 50 notable women in the arts.

Covering a wide array of artistic mediums, this fascinating collection also…


Book cover of I Am an Artist

Josh Funk Why did I love this book?

I Am an Artist takes the idea of making art everywhere and out of everything to the extreme–with hilarious results.

Altés’ protagonist goes above and beyond (literally) in his efforts to create, but sometimes the creative chaos goes a little too far for his mother’s liking (although the cat doesn’t seem to mind). Of course, he knows exactly what to do to make his mom happy: more art! If you’re anything like me, your creative juices will definitely be overflowing after reading this one.

By Marta Altes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am an Artist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

Meet the boy who can't stop creating art!

He loves colours, shapes, textures and EVERYTHING inspires him: his socks, the contents of the fridge, even his cat gets a new coat (of paint!). But there's just one problem: his mum isn't quite so enthusiastic. In fact, she seems a little cross! But this boy has a plan to make his mum smile. He's about to create his finest piece yet and on a very grand scale . . .

Funny, irreverent and perfect for creative children and adults, I Am An Artist by Marta Altes is a sharp, silly, fabulous…


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Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

By Kerry Aradhya, Kara Kramer (illustrator),

Book cover of Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

Kerry Aradhya Author Of Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Not long ago, while rummaging through old storage containers in our garage, I came across a board game I had invented during elementary school. But I hadn’t made it for a school project or because anyone had asked me to make it. I had made it simply because I was passionate about creating…and I still am. As a children’s author, science editor, and dancer, I am fascinated by the creative process. I chose these books because they depict many of the ups, downs, and often unexpected outcomes of the creative process, all within the context of inventions for kids!

Kerry's book list on nonfiction picture books with inventions kids love

What is my book about?

This picture book biography of Ernő Rubik, creator of the Rubik’s Cube, reveals the obsession, imagination, and engineering process behind the creation of this fascinating and sometimes frustrating puzzle.

A solitary child, Ernő Rubik grew up in post-World War II Hungary, curious about puzzles, art, nature, and their underlying patterns and structures.

As a young professor of architecture, and in a quest to help his students understand three-dimensional movement, he fashioned a cube made up of smaller cubes that twisted and turned without breaking, unexpectedly inventing the most popular puzzle in history!

Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

By Kerry Aradhya, Kara Kramer (illustrator),

What is this book about?

This first picture book biography of Erno Rubik, creator of the Rubik’s Cube, reveals the obsession, imagination, and engineering process behind the creation of a bestselling puzzle that will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024.

In 2023, the world record for solving the Rubik’s Cube was broken by Max Park, who finished in 3.13 seconds!

And then there’s you. Did you ever get so frustrated with a Rubik’s Cube that you wanted to pull it apart and put it back together in order? Were you to do so, you’d see how cleverly one of the world’s most popular toys is…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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