3 Artistic New Books for Children

The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell by Candace Fleming

The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Gerard Dubois (9780399552380)

When Joey Cornell was a child, he collected all sorts of things that interested him. Both of his parents helped find small treasures for his collection. Year after year, his collection grew and grew as he added to it. There were bright colored feathers, butterfly wings, doll heads, leaves, a safe, and much more. After the death of his father, when he was thirteen, Joey began to spend even more time with his collection and began to put the objects together into new combinations. He showed his family the art he had created and continued to collect and create new magical art. Joseph Cornell became a famous artist known for his objects placed in small wooden boxes. The final pages of the book show some of the boxes and the incredible combinations he found of disparate objects that seem to belong together and tell a complete story.

Fleming writes this book with a focus on Cornell’s childhood and the collection he created even then. Her writing invites young collectors to explore and find their own voices. Dubois’ illustrations show the growing collection and young readers can see objects stay year after year and then appear in Cornell’s pieces. There is a strong sense of continuity in the book, a stretch of time held together by the collection and by Cornell himself. This is an entrancing and fascinating look at the childhood of a famous artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Bloom A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (9780062447616)

Raised as an unwanted second daughter who was considered ugly due to the moles on her face, Elsa grew up attracted to the bright colors of the slower market in Rome. Her imagination soars as she dreams of the stars, tries to fly and finds ideas in books and objects in the attic. Elsa become an artist and soon is designing dresses for herself, her husband, friends and her daughter. After years of work, Elsa has joined a group of artists and starts to design modern clothes that take Paris by storm. Elsa finds her own style, freedom from the harshness of her parents’ criticism and brings everyone else along on her journey to bloom.

Maclear has created a picture book biography that shows how a harsh upbringing can be overcome with imagination and hard work. The author’s note at the end of the book offers more insight into Schiaparelli’s designs that could not be shared in the short format of a picture book. It is very impressive therefore how much they did manage to share in the book itself, the illustrations and text applauding Schiaparelli’s life and her accomplishments. The illustrations move from Schiaparelli as a little girl to her designs and the incredible pink that she made famous (that is also the color of the end papers.)

This is a bright and well-designed look at Schiaparelli’s life and her designs. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

World Make Way edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (9781419728457)

This collection of children’s poetry was inspired by a Leonardo da Vinci quote: “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art were paired with poets who wrote poems inspired by those paintings. The result is spectacular, a book that shows each poem along with the art that is tied to it. The poems reflect the paintings in unique and interesting ways, showing readers details, emotions and the feel of each one. The book ends with information on each of the poets and each of the artists. A book that invites young readers to look closely at art and see it from their own point of view. Appropriate for ages 8-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

3 Art-Filled Books for Children

Art Up Close From Ancient to Modern by Claire dHarcourt

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d’Harcourt (9781616894214)

This large format picture book invites readers into a Where’s Waldo type exploration of art. Exploring over twenty works of art, children can search for over 200 details, asking them to look more closely at art than they may have before. Along the way, they will discover new details too. The back of the book provides more information on each piece of art as well as a clever lift-the-flap way to give answers. This book is gorgeously done, the images are crisp and large and span a vast number of years and cultures. A great introduction to art through a vehicle that children will find irresistible. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

Fallingwater The Building of Frank Lloyd Wrights Masterpiece by Marc Harshman

Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Leuyen Pham (9781596437180)

This picture book focuses on just one on Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, Fallingwater. It looks at the process that Wright used to design the building, from viewing the site itself to thinking for a very long time about what he would design. It was at the very last moment that Wright actually put the design on paper so that the owner of the site could see his vision. That vision came to life in Fallingwater, where you can hear the waterfall from every room in the house, stand outside on the balconies, and the floor feels like rocks in a streambed. All of these details will help children better understand the architectural process and how it begins with a vision and idea. The illustrations have a lovely vintage sepia tone and feel with the blue water of the site flowing from page to page, swirling and enlivening the images. A lovely and focused look at a famous architect’s work, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Vincent Can_t Sleep Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (9781101937105)

The duo that created The Noisy Paint Box, which won a Caldecott Honor, return with this look at the childhood and work of Van Gogh. The book focuses on the insomnia that plagued Van Gogh his entire life, even in his childhood when he would head outside in the middle of the night and go out into the heath to watch the stars. He spends much of his time at board school alone and working on his art. As a young man, he has problems working in his uncle’s gallery because of  his moods. The book shows him becoming a full-time artist and heading into the countrysides of Belgium and England. He is a man who understands darkness and night more profoundly than most. This picture book carefully captures the symptoms of Van Gogh’s mental illness, showing him struggling with mood and even hospitalized for a time. The book doesn’t dwell on this, but shows it as part of the complexity of the artist and his gifts. The illustrations are rich and layered, paying homage at times to Van Gogh’s work but at other times standing apart as a witness. Another strong artist biography from this pair that is worth the read and the space on your shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.

In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.

The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

NotYouPrincess

#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (9781554519576)

This is one powerful book about the experience and strength of Native women. The book is a collection of art, stories, poems and interviews of and by Indigenous women. The pieces in the book explore the intersectionality of being both Indigenous and female, demonstrating with a searing cry the damage done by abuse and stereotypes. There is power in the book, strong voices that insist on being heard and no longer being invisible in our modern world.

This book fights back against the harmful boxes that our society puts Native women in, labeling them with stereotypes of drunkenness or princess. This book shows instead the wide range of Native voices with art and words that shout on the page. Both the art and textual pieces are impressive separately, but put together into a whole, the book becomes more than its pieces. The result is a brilliant collection, building piece by piece. It is not an easy read, but one that is honest and raw.

Beautiful, angry and insistent, this collection of the voices of Native women belongs on the shelves of every library serving teens. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (9781452162812)

This book on the Statue of Liberty could not be more timely for our world today. The book first looks at the French origins of the statue made to celebrate the centennial of the United States. From small renderings to large pieces of the full-sized statue, Bartholdi, the artist shipped the statue to New York City in 214 crates. Statue assembly in New York took 17 months. The copper statue was originally copper brown, but aged to the green lady we know today. The book then focuses on the statue’s right foot, a foot that is moving rather than standing still. This symbol of our nation welcoming refugees and immigrants from around the world is stepping forward, just as we must to welcome new people to our shores.

This book is a lovely cross between a picture book and a nonfiction read. Shaped as a book that is shorter and thicker than most picture books, it offers illustrations on all of the pages. The text length is welcoming for younger readers and will also work as a read aloud.

The book moves from being a factual read about the statue itself and how it was built and came to America. It transforms into a call for our nation to live up to that symbol, to step forward as well. It becomes something more than the facts, more than the details. It brings the statue and our values to life.

Rumbles of awards surround this title. It deserves all of them. Unique and fabulous. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

4 Diverse Biographies of Women

Here are four of my top picks for picture book biographies. They just happen to be about exceptional diverse women.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh (9781419725326)

When Amalia saw the dancers in her town square as a child, she knew that she wanted to be a dancer. She studied ballet and modern dance but always remembered those folk dancers from her childhood. Amalia traveled throughout Mexico, watching the different folk dances in different regions. She used her dancing and choreography skills to turn those dances into performances for the stage. Founding her own dance company, she became known throughout the world.

Tonatiuh uses his signature illustration style that is a delightful mix of folk images and modern edge. The illustrations are a match for the topic, each strengthening the other. He writes of the large amount of work and dedication that Hernández had as well as the vision she carried through her entire life of folk dance and its importance. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (9780735842694)

This picture book biography focuses on Frida Kahlo’s lifelong relationship with animals. As a child she had a blue parrot, the color of the home she grew up in. She also had a fawn and a cat. But when Frida was six, she got very ill and had to stay in bed for a long time. Her illness caused one of her legs to be different from the other, but once she was better it didn’t slow her down at all. Frida also had an eagle, two monkeys, two turkeys and three dogs. Her animals had a place in their garden to play, designed by Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband. As she painted, her animals stayed around her and appeared in her self portraits.

Brown uses the animals in Kahlo’s life to point out specific characteristics of her personality, each tied to a specific pet. This strengthens Kahlo’s already strong connection to her animals and makes it more clear for the reader as well. Parra’s illustrations are done on board. They have an appealing combination of organic feel, connection to nature and folk images. An appealing and unique look at Frida Kahlo. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley received from Netgalley and NorthSouth Books.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jonah Winter

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781419725593)

This picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows her intelligence from childhood onward. With a mother who loved books and reading, Ruth was raised to go to college in a time when most women did not attend. Ruth’s mother passed away the day she graduated high school and never saw her daughter head to Cornell and then on to law school. Along the way, Ruth noticed all of the inequities around her, towards minorities and women. She experienced some of the directly: having her pay slashed when pregnant and being barred from the Law Library at Harvard because she was a woman. With the fight for equality for women, Ruth became the most important female attorney in the nation as she argued before the Supreme Court. Eventually, she would become the second female court justice and the author of some of the most powerful dissents in the Court’s history.

This picture book starts with Ruth’s childhood and the importance of her mother and also ends that way. Throughout it is a celebration of the power of women and the importance of their roles and their voices. Winter writes with a strong sense of history and shows both the possibilities there are in the world and also what hard work it takes to get there. The illustrations by Innerst have a quirky historical quality to them with watercolor but also a distinct modern twist as well. This is a strong biography of Ginsburg and her importance to the entire country. Appropriate for ages 7-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (9781481446693)

Growing up in Iraq, Zaha Hadid saw all of the natural features around her: rivers, marches, sand dunes, and more. As a child, she dreamed of creating her own cities. She designed her own clothes. In school in London, Hadid learned more about cities and architecture. She opened her own studio, designing buildings without corners that echoed the natural features of her homeland. Even after winning an architectural contest, her buildings don’t get built. But she refuses to change or stop designing. Eventually, her buildings gain attention and are built around the world. Her studio grows and gets busier. Even after she passes away, her ideas and designs and the work of her studio continue.

Winter has a gorgeous way with biographies, keeping them brief enough for even preschool audiences but detailed enough to intrigue and to speak to the individual and their life. Look in the back of the book for information on where her buildings are located in the world. The illustrations, also by Winters, capture the soaring spirit of Hadid’s designs and their unique vision. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane.)

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)

No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.

Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.

Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Claymates by Dev Petty

Claymates by Dev Petty

Claymates by Dev Petty, illustrated by Lauren Eldridge (9780316303118, Amazon)

Two balls of clay meet one another and then are formed by an artist into an owl and a wolf. The two are left alone and quickly discover that they are able to change their own shapes as they like. They rapidly change from one form to another, elephants and peanuts, things big, small, flat and sharp. As the artist returns, the two balls of clay try to remember what they had originally been shaped as but don’t quite get it right. So back they go into a wolf and an owl and then eventually into balls of clay. But they aren’t done playing yet!

The text of the book is entirely done in a dialogue between the two characters, so it is simple and easy. The result is a book done in photographs that reads much more like a comic with speech bubbles. There is a delight in the photos and the clay shapes, evoking claymation movies and the joy of childhood play with clay.

Throughout the book, there is lots of humor both in the dialogue and the shapes that the clay takes. The illustrations also incorporate the tools the artist uses to shape the clay, and the early pages of the book show an image of the set and photography equipment. The clay shapes are clever and funny, inviting readers to explore clay themselves and start to make friends through play.

A joyful look at friendship and creativity. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)

Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?

In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.

The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.

The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.