My favorite reading challenge this year is Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit her blog to discover terrific new nonfiction titles.
I love books about art (check out my #pb10for10 list, Books for Budding Artists), and today I am sharing two superb picture book biographies of artists.
Edward Hopper Paints His World, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Wendell Minor, is a wonderful introduction to Hopper. Although the focus is on Hopper as a professional painter, we meet him first as a child, already with a dream to become a artist. Place is hugely important to him even as a child: he sketches the scene from his window and skips games with other boys to walk by the river and draw. Throughout his life, we see that environment and setting are key to Hopper’s vision as an artist. What this book does brilliantly is place Hopper in the different environments that inspired his work. Minor’s paintings re-interpret some of Hopper’s most famous scenes–but always with meaningful differences that allow us to see Hopper observing, looking, imagining, and then creating. Minor’s work is really impressive: there are rich, evocative full-color spreads as well as charcoal sketches to convey an artist at work. Minor manages to evoke Hopper but also creates his own work of art in this picture book.
There is some excellent back matter, including a few of Hopper’s quotations about art, reproductions of four of his most famous paintings (all re-interpreted by Minor somewhere in the book) with analysis, a brief biography with key dates, writer’s and artist’s bibliographies, and a very interesting note from Wendell Minor about his illustrations.
An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers, written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Julia Breckenreid, introduced me to an artist I didn’t know I knew. When I first started reading this book, I was sure I didn’t know Albers. But it turns out that I just didn’t know his name. Anyone familiar with twentieth-century abstract art has seen his colorful paintings of squares. The main focus of this book is Albers’s exploration of color, which he didn’t actually begin in earnest until he was 61. And then he discovered that he had so much to learn about the ways colors work together that he spent the next 27 years painting squares of color! This is not a full biography of Albers: we learn almost nothing about him aside from his ability to find art in simple things and his exploration of color. But Wing includes a detailed biographical note in the back that tells us much more about Albers–and in language that children can understand. I really appreciate back matter that is still written for the picture book’s target audience. I was especially interested in what she wrote about Albers as an art teacher: he was innovative and experimental in his classroom.
In addition to the biographical note, Wing includes a personal note explaining her connection to Albers (he was her next-door neighbor when she was growing up), a glossary, a color wheel, and instructions for five art activities that will enable the reader to explore some of Albers’s discoveries about color.