Tag Archive: artists


I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs Bensons Blackboard by Jennifer Mann

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann (InfoSoup)

Mrs. Benson gives stars on her blackboard for things like spelling, neatness and raising your hand. Rose though, struggles with all of those things. Plus she isn’t good at math, her voice is too quiet for a star in reading, and she spilled snack on Mrs. Benson. Rose had been distracted by the artist who came to speak with them and dreaming of all of the things that she could create. At the end of the day, there was going to be a check for desk neatness, and Rose knew that she would never get a star for that. Mrs. Benson didn’t quite reach Rose’s desk that evening, so the next day Rose came in early and cleaned her desk. Then they got to make thank you cards for the artist who had visited, but doing art was messy and Rose undid all of her cleaning. At the same time, Rose had made an incredible card and who knows maybe art was a way that she could finally get that star!

Mann captures the pressure that a student who does not conform to classroom norms can feel. Rose desperately wants to do what is right, but none of the qualities that Mrs. Benson wants come easily or naturally to her. The presentation of someone to inspire her to do her best on something that she is definitely good at makes for a natural turning point in the book and allows Rose to continue to be herself all the way to the end. This is a celebration of artistic children who may lack in social graces but make up for it in boundless enthusiasm and creativity.

Mann’s illustrations make the book very kid-friendly as does the subject matter. The friendly round-headed characters are shown in a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Rose stands out in the illustrations with her bright-colored clothing and then the fact that at the artist presentation she is standing and listening rather than sitting. It all shows that she is a vibrant kid, filled with so much zing that it would be impossible to contain her.

A celebration of kids who don’t fit into classrooms easily, this picture book celebrates creativity and being yourself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Sky Painter by Margarita Engle

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici (InfoSoup)

Told in verse, this nonfiction picture book celebrates the life and work of Louis Fuertes. As a child, Louis loved watching birds and caring for them if they were injured. Even in his youth he started drawing and painting birds, despite the fact that his father wanted him to be an engineer. He kept drawing and painting in college, and learned to paint quickly and capture birds in action. At the time, the practice was to hunt the birds and then paint the dead bodies posed. Fuertes instead watched birds in life and painted them. Soon he was traveling the world to see different birds and paint them for museums, books and scientific record. Fuertes painted murals at the Natural History Museum and had a series of collectible cards with his paintings of birds on them. He helped make bird watching one of the most popular sports in the world by reinventing the way artists approached painting wildlife.

Engle speaks as Fuertes in her poems, giving him a voice to describe his own life and his own art. The book swirls like birds wings, moving from one colorful part of the world to another, delighting in the diversity of bird life everywhere. The format is rather like Fuertes’ work itself. She captures Fuertes in his real life, speaking as himself, traveling around the world, and then settling down to be the Bird Man in his old age. He is in his natural habitat throughout. Engle also captures the power of art and the importance of following the natural gifts you have.

The illustrations by Bereghici are bright with color and filled with birds. She labels each one, so that readers can learn about the different types of birds along the way. The book is filled with different habitats, even showing Fuertes underwater attempting to learn more about ducks so that he doesn’t have to shoot them. The illustrations of the birds are serious and detailed while there is often a playfulness to Fuertes’ image on the page.

A beautiful celebration of an artist who forever changed the way that birds and wildlife are painted. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

In Marys Garden by Tina and Carson Kugler

In Mary’s Garden by Tina & Carson Kugler (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography of Mary Nohl, a Wisconsin artist, tells the story of her first creations of large art. When she was young, Mary discovered that she loved art and making things and drawing. It was when she started to collect odds and ends from the beach near her home that she started to create her statues in her garden. Cement was combed and crafted, dotted with stones and other objects. One after another, huge creatures filled her yard, drawing visitors to see what Mary was creating. Mary died in 2001 at the age of 87 and her home still serves as a gallery of her art.

The Kuglers focus primarily on the finding of objects and the process that Mary used to create the art. Then they turn to the gallery she created with her huge creatures who are friendly and welcoming and wild. One can immediately see the appeal of her art. Turning to the back of the book, readers can see the actual art and her garden gallery. The more detailed prose found there also explains how her works is still problematic for her neighbors and how people are working to preserve it.

The illustrations are great and completely capture the whimsical and decidedly friendly nature of Mary Nohl’s art work. From the finding of objects on the lake beach to the creation of the art itself, the illustrations invite young readers to try their own hand at found-object art and to make themselves happy too.

Ideal for Wisconsin libraries, art teachers will enjoy having a book about a woman modern sculptor. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

gordon parks

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Gordon Parks had a rough beginning to his life from being born almost stillborn to losing his mother at age 14. He was told by his white teacher that he and the rest of his all-black class would end up as either porters or waiters. Parks did do those jobs, but then he purchased a used camera and everything changed. He started photographing models and then turned his camera towards the struggling families in Chicago and Washington DC. He is pointed towards one specific subject who will create his most famous image, American Gothic, the picture of an African-American cleaning woman standing in front of the American flag with her mop in hand. Parks managed to show racism with a clarity thanks to just picking up a camera at first.

Weatherford keeps this book very friendly with a minimal amount of text in the bulk of the book. She does include an author’s note at the end that fills in more of the extensive career of Parks as a film director and Renaissance man. The focus here in this picture book biography is Parks’ photographic work and the impact he had on exposing racism and poverty in the inner city, showing hard working people who were still in poverty. Make sure to turn to the end of the book to see his photographs and their intense message.

Christoph’s illustrations are stellar. Using a subtle color palette, the images echo the photographs that Park took, but not too closely. Instead they build upon them, showing Parks taking the images and embracing the dark beauty of the back streets of urban spaces. He also beautifully captures emotions and the humanity of Parks’ subjects that also shines in his photographs.

An important picture book biography, this book shows how one person can make a difference and have a voice. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

iridescence of birds

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Hadley Hooper

Henri Matisse grew up in a town in northern France that was cold, gray and dreary.  But his mother filled their world with color with the plates that she painted with nature scenes.  She also let Henri mix the paint colors.  He was also the person who arranged the fruit and flowers that they bought in the market, on the blue and white tablecloth.  Red rugs adorned the walls of their house, filling it with color too and making the whole world turn red.  Henri also raised pigeons with their iridescent feathers.  And all of these elements of his childhood came together in his work as an adult, reflecting the color that one can see in the dreariest of towns.

MacLachlan has written this picture book in an unusual second person, inviting the reader to feel the environment just as Matisse himself did as a child.  The slow reveal of the richness of his childhood at home plays beautifully against the original gray and dullness of the outside.  It is as if he was given another world to grow up in, one of colors and delight.  Though when readers really look at it, it is about small things, tiny touches, being surrounded by paint, and of course the brilliance of pigeons too.

The illustrations by Hooper are rich and saturated with color.  Done in a combination of relief printmaking and digital formats, the book has a grounding in the solidity of printmaking that gives it texture and a feeling of tradition.  Playing against that is the modern lightness of the little boy, surrounded by the color and delight of his home.  It’s an exquisite pairing.

Rich, detailed and delightful, this picture book biography of the inspiration that Matisse found in his childhood home is sure to invite young readers to find their own sources of inspiration around them.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

unfinished life of addison stone

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

A unique and blazing novel of the life and death of a young artist, this novel for teens brilliantly captures the rise and fall of a legend.  Even as a little girl, Addison was a gifted artist who impressed teachers and won contests.  As she grew into a teenager, her family life grew more complicated and her mental health more fragile.  Addison began to hear voices, particularly a young woman named Ida who was a ghost in her grandparent’s home.  But Ida would not let go of Addison, even when she returned home and Addison was eventually hospitalized and treated for schizophrenia.  Through it all though, Addison created art, art good enough to get her noticed in a city like New York where she moved after high school.  Addison had “it” that combination of charisma and talent that quickly got her noticed.  It got her an agent, rich boyfriends, friends in the art world, and moved her further into chaos.  But in the end, the question is what killed her?  Which of her boyfriends took her life as she created a final work of art? 

This piece of fiction is stupendous.  It reads so realistically that one might even begin to search Addison’s name of Google to see more of her work or watch the video of her swinging on the chandelier.  The use of photographs is brilliant.  Weaving Addison firmly into the story through art and photos.  The art is also a fascinating component.  Meant to be worthy of attention from the biggest galleries in the world, the art is luminous on the page, and bravely done.  It forms a short lifetime of work, showing in a way that words could not the talent that was lost.

Griffin uses a structure of interviews with those who knew Addison.  This includes her parents, her friends from high school, boy friends, art critics, and many more.  Done any other way, this book would not have worked.  Written with such skill, the interviews are elegantly done, never taking a straight look at Addison, but instead a wonderful wandering one that is typical of documentaries.  It also works because we get to see Addison through other characters’ eyes, through the lenses of love, envy, desire.  In the end the different voices create a death chorus for Addison, sung in a beautiful harmony.

Wow, just wow.  This is an incredible work of fiction where the author captures just the right tone and format to take fiction to a new level and create reality fiction in a new and amazing way.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

viva frida

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Frida Kahlo is one of the most celebrated female artists in the world.  This picture book is less a biography and more a celebration of her life and art on the page.  Written in brief sentences, the book shows her unique perspective on the world.  It pays homage to the rich love she had in her life, her pet monkey, and all of the inspiration she found around her.  In a world that needs more diverse picture books, this is one worth celebrating.

The book is told entirely in short sentences from Frida Kahlo’s point of view.  Cleverly done, the sentences are done in English and Spanish, the Spanish almost a bright floral note next to the black English words.  It is the illustrations here that are exceptional.  Morales is known for her paintings but her she chooses a different medium entirely.  Kahlo is shown as a doll and the illustrations are photographs of that doll as she moves through her day.  Kahlo retains her distinctive single brow as well as her signature beauty. 

Using a doll in this way plays directly against the blonde bombshell beauty of Barbie.  With the same plastic structure, this Frida Kahlo doll with her black hair, warm brown skin and intelligent eyes shows a much richer form of beauty.  The images are cleverly photographed, showing Kahlo from different and interesting angles and moving into a dream sequence where the illustrations turn to paintings. 

A dynamite addition to any library, this is a necessary purchase that speaks to why diverse picture books are needed for all children.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Layout 1

Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J.L. Powers, illustrated by George Mendoza and Hayley Morgan-Sanders

George loved to move, so he decided to be a basketball player.  Then one day the world outside looked red to him and he started to see other colorful squiggles in the air and suffer from constant headaches.  The doctor told him that he was going blind, but George didn’t lose all of his sight, instead he continued to see bright colors and flashing lights.  He had to stop playing basketball because he could no longer see the basket.  Eventually, George took up running, mostly because it made him so tired that he could forget being blind.  He could run very fast, so fast that he went to the Olympics, twice.  But George continued to see a world of colors that no one else could see.  It wasn’t until a friend was killed that he started to ask himself why he was there, and George started to talk about being blind to groups and also to paint the world that he sees.

A truly inspirational story, Mendoza is an example of someone being incredible resilient in the face of a life-changing disability.  The fact that he began to run after losing his sight is amazing and also inspiring.  But it is his visions and his art that shine on the page, a world painted in colors that only he can see.  The process of George becoming an artist is shown in all of its slow progression which also gives the sense that there is time to find your path, time to be the person you are meant to be.

Seeing his paintings on the page is immensely powerful.  They are bold and bright, done in thick lines.  They have a voice to them that shouts on the page and they tell the story of what George sees more clearly than any words can. 

Highly recommended, this picture book biography is a powerful tale of resilience and overcoming barriers.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from pdf received from J.L. Powers.

remy and lulu

Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison

Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy.  The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work.  He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style.  Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses.  Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it.  Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening.  What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?

This is a wonderfully rich picture book.  The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds.  It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance.  Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart.  Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy.  They are a solid pair.

Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work.  Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s.  The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself.  It’s a delight.

Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

edward hopper paints his world

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Released August 19, 2014.

Even as a child, Edward Hopper lived as an artist.  He spent his days drawing as much as he could, preferring drawing to playing baseball with the other boys.  After high school, he headed off to New York City to study art.  Then Hopper went to Paris to learn even more, spending time painting outside.  When he returned to the US, he got a job as an illustrator for magazines, but wanted to spend time painting what he wanted to, not for others.  He started painting old houses in his work and after getting married he spent time wandering the countryside on Cape Cod, finding scenes that moved him and they weren’t the typical images of gardens and farms.  He also painted things in the city that spoke to him.  Eventually the critics and galleries discovered Hopper and he gained attention, but it didn’t change him, even his final work speaks to his unique vision and approach.

Burleigh has written a book about an important American painter but even more than that, he has captured the small things that made him great.  The book speaks to the importance of allowing yourself time to learn a craft and getting an education.  It also speaks to staying true to yourself and your vision whether it is accepted at the time or not.  And then there is the importance of perseverance and following your dream even if it doesn’t make a lot of money.  Hopper teaches all of this in his quiet way.

Minor’s artwork shines in this picture book.  He brilliantly captures the feel of Hopper’s work without copying it directly but these images are also clearly Minor’s own as well.  Pictures of some of Hopper’s most famous work is shared at the end of the book and it is there that one realizes what a profound mix of two artists’ work has happened here.

A very strong addition to the growing collection of picture book biographies about artists, this book has much to offer budding young artists as well as art classes.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Wendell Minor.

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