For picture book lovers, #pb10for10 is one of the best days of the year. Dozens of bloggers participate in this annual event hosted by Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning and Cathy at Reflect & Refine. Participation is easy: curate your own list of 10 favorite picture books and share the list at Mandy’s or Cathy’s blog. They compile all of the posts into a Jog that streamlines the process for spending vast quantities of money on new picture books that you absolutely must have at that very moment. SIGH. My TBR list grows exponentially as I read through the dozens of blog posts with hundreds of picture book recommendations. I especially enjoy the themed lists because they often get me thinking about different ways I can match and share books in the courses I teach.
Last year, I put together a list of books I like to use in my college writing courses. This year, I decided to focus on my favorite type of picture book: books about art and artists. As everyone who is posting lists today would agree, it’s not easy to narrow the list to just ten titles. (I have seen many creative cheats already! Kudos to those who squeeze more than 10 titles into their lists of 10!) My initial brainstorm generated over 10 nonfiction picture books I want to share as well as over 10 fiction picture books I want to share! And that’s before consulting my reading records or doing a search. Still, I forced myself to choose just 10. My creative cheat is to point my readers to author-illustrator Deborah Freedman’s list of books about art and imagination.
1. Ish by Peter Reynolds. This is a story about losing confidence in yourself as an artist and finding it again after someone else notices and appreciates what you do. And I love the whole concept of doing things “ish-ly.” “Ish” is a word we use A LOT in my house! This is also a great book to share with budding perfectionists to encourage a growth mindset. If I were going to creatively cheat and cram more than 10 titles onto my list, I would totally include the other two books in Peter Reynolds’s “Creatrilogy”: The Dot and Sky Color. But I’m not cheating. I’m really not.
2. It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw written by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. This may be my favorite nonfiction picture book of the year. It’s at least in the top 5. Artist Bill Traylor didn’t start drawing until he was 81 years old! He had spent his youth on a cotton plantation in Alabama, first as a slave, then as a sharecropper. As an adult, he and his wife farmed. As an elderly man, he was left alone on his farm; he decided to leave the country and move to the capital city, Montgomery, where he found himself homeless and lonely. And he began to draw. He used the materials he had at hand, and he worked as he sat on the sidewalk. He produced over 1200 pictures, and now he’s considered an important American folk artist. This is a powerful story about how it’s never too late to create.
3. The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert. Unlike Bill Traylor, Lois Ehlert has always been an artist. My favorite parts of The Scraps Book focus on her childhood: her parents always encouraged her and shared their own tools and supplies with her, some of which she still uses to this day. Readers of her books will be fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look into her book-making process, but even readers unfamiliar with Ehlert’s work will find this a compelling look at an artist’s life and work. (And then they will want to read all of her other books.) (At least that’s what happened to me.)
4. Emily’s Blue Period, written by Cathleen Daly and illustrated by Lisa Brown. Emily is an artist, but now that her parents have separated, she is too sad to create in the ways she used to. She likens herself to Picasso going through his blue period. (Which makes Picasso and Minou a great pairing for this book.) (Not that I would cheat and add an extra title.) In the end, Emily uses art as she always has–to make sense of her new world. I especially liked how her final art project brings her family together in a new way.
5. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This outstanding nonfiction picture book biography tells the story of Pippin, who loved to draw as a child but often had little time for art as he grew up and needed to work a variety of jobs to help support his family. He was injured in World War I and had to teach himself how to draw all over again. After the war, he used his art to explore his wartime experiences and trauma. I cheered when this book was named a Sibert Honor Book and won the Schneider Family Book Award.
6. Georgia’s Bones, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by BethAnne Anderson. There are several good picture book biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe, but this is a recent favorite of mine. I like how Bryant focuses on O’Keeffe’s interest in shapes, form, and the natural world. The story shows her as a child collecting things that were considered odd for a girl to collect (such as bones), insisting that someday she is going to be an artist, and then growing up to paint very similar objects and turn them into great art. O’Keeffe’s life and art seem connected and intentional from a very early age.
7. Chalk by Bill Thomson. What happens when children find special chalk on the playground–chalk that makes your drawings come to life? Magical things happen. Thomson’s paintings are absolutely incredible and fully tell the story in this wordless picture book.
8. The Noisy Paint Box, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Russian painter Kandinsky was one of the first abstract artists, and Rosenstock explores the ways that the development of his unique style was linked to synesthesia, a neurological condition affecting sense perception. Kandinsky could hear colors and see music, and his art developed as a way to capture what he heard and saw.
9. Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman. An artist finds her work nearly ruined when a chicken she has illustrated tips over a can of blue paint and turns the whole farmyard blue. Freedman is one of my favorite illustrators, and the story here is so funny.
10. Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by David Diaz. There are also a few good picture book biographies of Frida Kahlo (the one by Jonah Winter is much better suited for younger readers), but this one is probably my favorite, largely because of David Diaz’s illustrations. Novesky focuses her story on Frida’s experience accompanying her new husband, painter Diego Rivera, to San Francisco, where he had been hired to paint a mural. Everyone knows her as Diego’s wife, and this story shows how she gains confidence and insists on being an artist in her own right.