Picture Book 10 for 10: Books for Budding Artists #pb10for10


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.

it jes happened

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.

scraps book

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.)

emilys blue period

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.

splash of red

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.

georgias bones

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.

noisy paint box

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.

blue chicken

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.

me frida

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.





27 responses to “Picture Book 10 for 10: Books for Budding Artists #pb10for10”

  1. Linda Baie Avatar

    What a list, Elisabeth! I know them all except for Me, Frieda. Will look for it. I’ve already done 10 holds from my library-the list grows & grows! Thanks!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m off to search my library for about two dozen titles now, Linda! Reading the #pb10for10 posts is always so inspiring! This particular list was so much fun to make, though I’m sorry I couldn’t wedge more titles onto it. Ashley Bryan’s Words to My Life’s Song, Journey, Art & Max, Action Jackson, Art from Her Heart are a few that I really wanted to include. And even Battle Bunny would be a fun choice! Oh well. There’s always next year!

  2. thelogonauts Avatar

    Great topic, and I love your mix of inspiring biographies and creative inspirations!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you! I’ve read so many good picture book biographies of artists over the past year. Love books about creativity!

  3. Kathy Avatar

    I think this is my favorite list I’ve seen today. 🙂 So many great stories and such an inspirational way to get students to explore their artist side! I’ve never heard of Blue Chicken. Looks like a fun one. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Kathy! Blue Chicken is a treat. Another title by Deborah Freedman, The Story of Fish & Snail, is on my top 10 PBs of all time list (a list that only exists in my head, btw, and probably changes daily! But Fish & Snail is ALWAYS on it!).

      1. Kathy Avatar

        Sounds like that one is a winner. Adding it to my list. 🙂 Thanks!

  4. alybee930 Avatar

    What a fun list. I have read all but Georgia’s Bones. I just requested it from the library. Thanks for posting these.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I couldn’t believe there was a Jen Bryant I’d never heard of! Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

  5. readingtothecore Avatar

    This is a wonderful list, Elisabeth. I considered doing a similar theme and would have included Blue Chicken and A Splash of Red. I’ve seen Emily’s Blue Period on a couple of lists today, so I went out and bought it. Can’t wait to read it and the other new titles (to me) from your list. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Emily’s Blue Period surprised me–quirky, funny, and also deeply serious and heartfelt. One I will be rereading and sharing often. Hope you love it as much as I do!

  6. Holly Mueller Avatar

    I love books about art! Thanks for sharing these. I love Splash of Red, and I have The Scraps Book and The Noisy Paint Box on my list. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Noisy Paint Box is just wonderful–I know you’ll love it, Holly.

  7. Carol Wilcox Avatar

    So many great titles here! I fell in love with SPLASH OF RED last year as a CYBILS judge. I love that book. There are about five titles here, however, starting with ELIZABETH’S BLUE PERIOD and THE NOISY PAINT BOX that I definitely want to hunt down. And I totally agree with you- there are way too many great books and it’s really, really hard to narrow them down. I snuck in a few extras too!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I love how many new-to-me books were posted on the #pb10for10 lists. I know my PLN will make certain I never run out of wonderful books to read! Noisy Paint Box is one of my favorites of this year for sure.

  8. Cathy Avatar

    I can’t wait to share this list with our art teacher. I was actually thinking as I was moving from blog to blog how little we talk about illustrators/illustrations. I suppose that’s in part because in our push for standards we sometimes forget art and creativity. You have a few titles that I had forgotten about, and a few new to me. Off to the library to request some new titles.


    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Cathy, reading PBs has renewed my interest in art in a big way–and reading them with my son only reinforces that. He recognizes different illustration styles and makes connections between books that I sometimes don’t even think of. He has got me reading and looking much more carefully at books! I have started searching for books by illustrator rather than author and we’re discovering so many wonderful books that way! Hope your art teacher finds something useful here! I agree with your point about standards. It’s so detrimental to children’s development to push aside what actually matters about being human in favor of what can be tested on a multiple choice assessment!

  9. Earl @ The Chronicles Of A Children's Book Writer Avatar

    I love seeing books that I love myself on this list! I’ve really been digging books about art and artists this year. Glad to be on the look out for more!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      That was a big pleasure of #pb10for10 for me too, Earl! Oh hey, another book I love too! LOL.

  10. Sandi Purdell-Lewis Avatar

    It is definitely not cheating to include The Dot.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Sandi! The Dot should probably just be included automatically on every #pb10for10 list because it’s that awesome!

  11. Cathy Ballou Mealey Avatar
    Cathy Ballou Mealey

    Lovely choices – I especially like NOISY PAINT BOX!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Noisy Paint Box is one of my favorites of the year. I need to get a coffee table book on Kandinsky so I can pour over those amazing paintings!

  12. […] My contribution to #pb10for10, a list of my 10 Picture Books for Budding Artists […]

  13. Ramona Avatar

    Bookmarking this list for future reference! I’m hoping to play around with art a bit in retirement, so lots of inspiration for me here. I loved A Splash of Red! I’m off to request Georgia’s Bones and The Scraps Book. Thanks for the link to Deborah Freedman’s list.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There were several new-to-me titles on Deborah Freedman’s list, so I’ll have to do some requesting too. I’m one of those people who believes that I can’t draw, but I have a whole shelf of “unleash your inner artist” type books, LOL. Someday!

  14. […] love books about art (check out my #pb10for10 list, Books for Budding Artists), and today I am sharing two superb picture book biographies of […]

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