My favorite books about the value of children’s art

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve had a life-long love affair with the arts. I intended to become an artist, but ultimately became a psychologist researching psychological aspects of the arts. My first book, Invented Worlds, examined the key questions and findings in the psychology of the arts. In Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, I wrote about gifted child artists. My Arts & Mind Lab at Boston College investigated artistic development in typical and gifted children, habits of mind conferred by arts education, and how we respond to works of art. The walls of my home are covered with framed paintings by young children, often side by side paintings by professional artists.


I wrote...

Book cover of How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration

What is my book about?

How Art Works explores puzzles about the arts (visual art, music, literature) that have preoccupied philosophers as well as the broader, reflective public: Can “ART” be defined? How do we decide what we think is a good or great work of art? Why do we seek out works of art that elicit negative emotions like sadness or fear? What’s wrong with a perfect fake? Does reading fiction enhance empathy? Does arts education raise test scores? What is particularly special about the visual art of the young child?  These puzzles are explored from the perspective of empirical evidence from my own lab as well as from labs of psychologists around the world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Children's Drawings (Le Dessin Enfantin)

Ellen Winner Why did I love this book?

This book, originally published in French in 1927 (and now at long last translated into English by psychologist Alan Costall), is the earliest systematic analysis of the odd, nonrealistic features of children’s drawings, and the first to argue against those who considered these oddities as defects to be overcome. Instead, children’s drawings at different stages are shown to have their own logic and intelligence. Luquet opposed any kind of intervention or correction by adults, which he felt might destroy children’s love of drawing. He took children’s drawings seriously, never dismissing them in terms of what they lacked. This highly readable book, with its wonderful illustrations revealing the logic of children’s drawings, has had an enormous influence on how psychologists understand child art.    

By Georges-Henri Luquet, Alan Costall (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Children's Drawings (Le Dessin Enfantin) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title looks at children's drawings in light of modern psychology, focusing on the two main theories - visual realism and intellectual realism - whilst examining the work of Georges-Henri Luquet and arguing that his work goes beyond both theories.


Book cover of Artful Scribbles: The Significance of Children's Drawings

Ellen Winner Why did I love this book?

Most studies of child art describe development towards realism. Artful Scribbles is one of the first accounts to focus on the expressiveness and aesthetics of child art. Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner discusses in depth the puzzle of why the flowering of children’s art (as valued in the West in the last century) does not last. While drawings of 8- or 9-year-olds are more realistic and “accurate” than those of preschoolers, they seem to have lost the exploratory freshness of the art of younger children. This is one of the earliest studies of children’s art to take seriously the idea of the child as an artist and to consider the relationship between child art, modern art, and the art of adolescents and of mature artists.  

By Howard E. Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Artful Scribbles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Psychologists have long understood that the art works of children relate to their intellectual and emotional development but this is the first book to describe the developmental process of drawing. Gardner explores the vital links between childrens art and their emotional, social, and cognitive development.


Book cover of The Innocent Eye

Ellen Winner Why did I love this book?

This book by art historian Jonathan Fineberg will open your eyes to the fundamental connections between young children’s art and the art of famous 20th century modern artists like Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and others. You might be surprised to learn that many of these artists collected children’s drawings and were profoundly influenced by child art. This book will help you understand the images that inspired these modern masters. It will change how you look at both modern art and child art,  and you will come away with a greater appreciation of both.

By Jonathan Fineberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Innocent Eye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"When I was the age of these children I could draw like Raphael. It took me many years to learn how to draw like these children."--Pablo Picasso, upon viewing an exhibition of children's drawings, as quoted by Sir Herbert Read in 1945 The idea that modern art looks like something a child can do is a long-standing cliche. For some modernists, however, the connection between their work and children's art was direct and explicit. This groundbreaking and heretical book, centered on such modern masters as Klee, Kandinsky, Picasso, and Miro, presents for the first time material from the collections of…


Book cover of Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye

Ellen Winner Why did I love this book?

This is a classic book by German-born psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, in which he lays out the principles underlying our perception and understanding of works of visual art.  One of the major principles discussed is the human tendency to see the simplest form possible in any visual array. This ‘simplicity principle’ is also used to explain the intelligence and inventiveness of children’s art. In a brilliant chapter called Growth, Arnheim shows us that children are not striving towards realism; rather they are trying to create the simplest possible recognizable structural equivalent for the object they are representing.  The inventiveness with which children reduce complex forms to simple structural equivalents requires far more intelligence than mindless copying.  

By Rudolf Arnheim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art and Visual Perception as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its publication fifty years ago, this work has established itself as a classic. It casts the visual process in psychological terms and describes the creative way one's eye organizes visual material according to specific psychological premises. In 1974 this book was revised and expanded, and since then it has continued to burnish Rudolf Arnheim's reputation as a groundbreaking theoretician in the fields of art and psychology.


Book cover of Nadia Revisited: A Longitudinal Study of an Autistic Savant

Ellen Winner Why did I love this book?

Nadia was a severely autistic and mentally challenged child who, at age 3, drew horses that in important respects rivalled those by Leonardo da Vinci. Nadia was clearly a case of “savant syndrome” – an individual severely impaired in most areas but with one island of genius-level skill. Psychologist Lorna Selfe first wrote about this amazing case in 1977. In 2011, Selfe tells us what happened to Nadia’s drawing ability as she grew older and why her drawings regressed sharply to a more primitive level. This book will introduce you to the many theories put forth to explain this strange almost eerie phenomenon. It will help you think about the difference between artistic giftedness in the context of autism and mental challenges versus such giftedness in the context of an otherwise typically developing child.

By Lorna Selfe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nadia Revisited as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book re-examines the case of Nadia, discovered as a child aged six, who had been drawing with phenomenal skill and visual realism from the age of three, despite having autism and severe learning difficulties. The original research was published in 1977 and caused great international interest. Nadia Revisited updates her story and reconsiders the theories that endeavour to explain her extraordinary talent.

As well as summarising the central issues from the original case study and presenting her remarkable drawings, the book explains Nadia's subsequent development and present situation in light of the recent research on autistic spectrum disorders and…


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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…


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