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Monday, February 27, 2012

A Few Children's Books on Famous Artists

Three series of books have provided us with much information about famous artists and their art, and hours of exploration, in a fun and easy-to-read way:

Getting To Know The World's Greatest Artists series of books by Mike Venezia

Anholt's Artists set of books by Laurence Anholt that offer stories about famous artists

Come Look With Me series of interactive art books from Lickle Publishing

We've been reading these set of books for the last several months, just one at a time, spread out enough as we intersperse it with other picture books and chapter books.

I am taking a very casual approach, mostly to educate myself, and, in the process, spark some interest in Ana (and Og). No rush. We try to make it fun by doing an art project in the style of the artist. There are wonderful online resource that help with such art projects for kids.

Art world is indeed strange and I cannot hope to understand it all. But, I've always wondered about the term "world famous" - how come only some get to be known all over the world? Why isn't Raja Ravi Varma more widely recognized outside of India? Is he still considered 'world  famous'? His oil paintings are certainly gorgeous and he was quite an influential artist of his time.

The very first artist we 'studied' was Georgia O'Keeffe. And, Ana made a hand-written biography book about Georgia.

Picasso (Getting to know the world's greatest artists)
by Mike Venezia

I like Mike Venezia's books. They are direct in offering facts but not in a tedious way. They showcase the artist's famous painting with an anecdote or back-story about that painting. This alone might not have held the 6 yo's attention for long, but, the funny cartoonish interludes certainly do.

When describing Picasso's Blue Period, the cartoon shows people looking at a blue painting exclaiming, "Why is the guitar blue? Guitars aren't usually blue!", "Why is he blue? People aren't blue!" and so on, along with, "It's wonderful! no one has ever painted like this!", "It's the work of a genius", and "It's the work of a nut".

The text explains, "Some people thought Picasso's blue paintings were great. Others (including Picasso's father) thought they were just too strange. This meant his paintings were controversial."

With a page like that, it is easy for the young reader to remember something about Picasso's Blue Period.

Venezia's books are a quick read, can be done in installments or in one go. And, can be re-read any number of times if handy on the bookshelf, thus sealing the knowledge.

Other Getting to know the World's Greatest Artists books by Venezia we've enjoyed so far:

Georges Seurat , Van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Klee, Matisse.

Mike Venezia also has written a few other Getting To Know... series of books - Great Composers, U.S. Presidents, Scientists & Inventors.

[Getting to know Mike Venezia]

Anholt's Artists are in picture book format with gorgeous illustrations and gentle narration. Each book is developed around a real event in the artist's life, wherein the artist is not necessarily the central character. Notes at the back of the book explain the context of the book.

For example in Cezanne and the Apple Boy, the story is about the artist Paul Cezanne's namesake son (who later became a successful art dealer) and we learn that the story takes place in 1886, when young Paul visited his artist father in Gardanne near Aix-en-Provence.

Each of the books we've read in this series so far offers a simple episodic story involving the artist, with art work in the style of the artist we are reading about: The Magical Garden of Claude Monet, Cezanne and the Apple Boy, Picasso and the girl with the Ponytail.

Come Look With Me series of books present a full page copy of the art work on the left side, with the typical artist, title, medium, and such information. And on the right, it asks a few pointed questions that pertain to the picture, compelling us to take a closer look at the art work in order to answer the questions.

For example, in Come Look With Me: World of Play by Gladys S. Blizzard, as we look at Winslow Homer's Snap the Whip, we are asked, Which boy seems to be the leader? How did the artist show you that? What season does this painting show? What clues let you know that? and a few more. And below the questions, a few paragraphs about the artist and this particular piece helps us appreciate the work better.

In Come Look With Me: Latin American Art by Kimberley Lane, we look at Xul Solar's Drago and try to figure out What is happening in this scene? What kind of creature do you see in the painting? How many of the flags in the picture do you recognize?  Why are the sun and the moon out at the same time?

As readers, we don't always have to know the 'right' answer, and sometimes, there isn't a single right answer. It is all about what you see in the picture, what speaks to you, what stands out and gets your attention.

In Come Look With Me: American Indian Art by Stephanie Salomon, we see a pair of Hopi Kachina Dolls made of painted wood, cloth, feathers, string and yarn. Have you ever received a doll or figure as a gift? Talk about a toy or doll or figure that is special to you... And we learn that Kachina dancers would give Hopi children these dolls as blessings for a happy life.

Of the few that I've read with Ana, she seems to choose the same pictures to go back and stare at on her own, completely ignoring some others. Oggie flips through them until something engages him and asks me to read it to him.

I am learning a lot in the process. I do not have any formal art education - a science major throughout - and no real sense of what constitutes art and why until well into adulthood. Art nurtures the soul, simply put, and hence the attraction to it and the drive to explore it with the kids.

I still remember the first time I read When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden to Ana a few years ago. And having recently read it to Og for the first time a few weeks ago, I am fascinated to see the different ways in which the two kids have received this book, and notice what appealed to them and amused them. And, judging by how often Og has picked it out of the bookshelf at home to read at bedtime in the past few weeks, it looks like the book has made a favorable impression on him.

There is something magical about books. And there are many wonderful books out there to satisfy the curious mind. I hope I get to sample as many as I can with the children, learn in the process, and hopefully savor the experience.

[image sources:  http://www.mikevenezia.com,,,]

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