January Book Review
The power and importance of art is often under estimated. I remember I had an art teacher in elementary school who taught us that any art project we created, whatever mistake we may think we have made, there is nothing we cannot fix. When we thought we had ruined our project, she encouraged us to use our imaginations to rethink and recreate our project into something new. Of course, as a young child at the time, I took this bit of advice at its literal value only.
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The words of this art teacher still stay with me today, all these many years later. But now as an adult, it is easier to see how this perspective might apply to almost any problem in our lives. When we believe we’ve messed up, instead of giving up and believing that all is lost, we can re-frame our perspective of the problem and recreate the challenge into something new and beautiful. This is such a positive, constructive, and proactive attitude we can teach our children! January’s book review covers several of my favorite children’s books about art. While some of these books cover basic art principles, other books I’ve chosen illustrate this same principle of finding creative ways to overcome challenges or solve problems.
8 Must Have Children’s Books About Art
By Jane O’Connor
Recommended age: 4-8 years
This is my number one pick. I love the Fancy Nancy books. They’re girly and fun, and perfect for any girl who likes pink and glitter, or anything fancy. But what I really love about Fancy Nancy is the vocabulary and the way it’s presented; the books are fun to read, but there’s so much children can learn from them at the same time. This is a particularly rich story, in which Nancy’s best friend is gone over spring break. Nancy feels sad about not having her best friend around, so her mother gets her a few new art supplies to help her entertain herself over the break, which inspires a full week’s worth of creativity.
Nancy turns her clubhouse into an art studio and dresses up like what she imagines an artist must look like. She takes inspiration from the world around her, drawing pictures of her ballet class, her neighbor’s garden, a postcard she gets in the mail, and a movie she watches that week. Nancy practices drawing portraits with a friend, and learns to express humor in her drawings. Part way through the week, Nancy struggles with and overcomes a lack of inspiration. Later, she visits an art museum, and learns to talk about how she feels about different pieces of art. The story introduces several famous artists and their work, including Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, and Jackson Pollock. At the end of her spring break, Nancy invites her neighbors and friends to an art exhibit in her backyard to display her week’s work.
2. Mouse Paint
By Ellen Stoll Walsh
Recommended age: 2-3 years
This is an excellent introduction to basic art principles for even the youngest of artists. Three cute, little white mice discover three jars of paint one afternoon, while the villain <the cat> is napping. Each mouse climbs into its own jar of paint, introducing young readers to the three primary colors. The mice then play and dance in puddles of paint, creating the three secondary colors. They wash back down to their white fur, in the cat’s water dish of all places! Then they use their remaining paint to re-create the secondary colors and paint a white piece of paper all the colors of the rainbow, leaving a little white corner where they can hide from the cat.
3. Mix It Up!
By Herve Tullet
Recommended age: 3-6 years
This is another book that explores mixing primary colors to create secondary colors. What’s different about this book is its interactive, hands-on nature. As you read, you direct your young artist through a variety of actions, such as squishing, smudging, smooshing, and tilting, to “mix” different primary colors together and discover what new colors they can make. This book also explores how adding white or black to different colors can make them lighter or darker.
By Barney Salzberg
Recommended age: 3-8 years
This is one of those books that challenges young readers’ imaginations and creativity to turn mistakes into beautiful pieces of art. This flip-and-fold book is filled with flaps for little fingers to explore, revealing new perspectives of how a tear, a spill, or a bent piece of paper can be re-created. Smudges, smears and stains may hold the potential to be rabbits, fish, or even frogs! Scraps of paper, crumpled-up paper, and holes can be just as much fun to play with.
By Drew Daywalt
Recommended age: 3-7 years
The Day the Crayons Quit is a fun and lighthearted story, filled mostly with monotone illustrations from a little boy. This book is formatted as a compilation of letters of resignation from Duncan’s crayons, to Duncan. The crayons’ grievances include being used too much, not being used enough, and coloring outside the lines. White Crayon laments at being used on white paper, and Black Crayon complains about only being used to outline shapes. Green Crayon is generally happy <who doesn’t love drawing dinosaurs and crocodiles?!>, but has grown weary of Yellow and Orange always arguing. Blue Crayon is all used up, and Peach Crayon is left naked, with no wrapper! After thinking about his crayons’ concerns, Duncan feels inspired to draw a new and colorful picture, using all of his crayons.
By Drew Daywalt
Recommended age: 5-8 years
The Crayons: Part II. This book is also formatted as a compilation of letters. But instead of letters of resignation, all of Duncan’s missing and abused crayons send him postcards, imploring he come find them and care for them better. The crayons include less common colors like maroon or turquoise, and specialty colors like neon, metallic, and glow-in-the-dark crayons. The crayons are lost in places such as the couch, under the rug, or in the basement. The abused crayons include two that were melted together in the sun, and another one chewed up and spit out by the dog.
One crayon, tired of being called Pea Green <because no one likes peas>, longs to travel the world, but never makes it past the front porch. Pea Green ends up living out his desire for adventure through talking to Neon Red at the end. Lost on vacation, Neon Red takes the long way home, traveling to “New Jersey” to see the Great Pyramids, and “Cleveland,” to see the Great Wall of China. <Neon Red’s geography may be a little mixed up!> In the end, Duncan gathers all of his lost and abused crayons. Since the misshapen crayons no longer fit in their box, Duncan builds a castle where they can live happily ever after.
By Crockett Johnson
Recommended age: 4-8 years
This simply-illustrated book is about a little boy who creates his own adventure, using nothing more than his purple crayon. Harold decides to go for a walk. On his way, he travels through a forest, an ocean, over a mountain, through the skies, through a city, and finally to his own home, drawing the scenery as he goes. It’s an excellent book about using your imagination to create your own fun, and also about using the same tools you have to create your own solutions when met with a challenge.
When Harold starts sinking in the ocean, he draws a boat. When Harold is hungry, he draws something to eat. And when Harold falls off the mountain top, he draws a hot air balloon to take him safely back to ground. In the end, when he is having difficulty finding his home again, he just keeps drawing windows until he manages to draw his own bedroom window. Safe in his room again, he climbs in bed, and goes to sleep.
By Alan Baker
Recommended age: 3-5 years
For those of you who already speak or are learning to speak Spanish, this book is an absolute must! The book is entirely in Spanish and includes realistic, but simple illustrations. In this story, a little white rabbit plays in different bowls of primary colors of paint, creating secondary colors. The rabbit washes off in a shower after each new secondary color, until the shower breaks. In the end, the now-green rabbit jumps into the red paint one last time, becoming a beautiful brown rabbit. It’s an excellent way to practice saying colors in Spanish.
For Further Reading
To find more children’s book reviews, read my post 10 Children’s Books that Teach Friendship and Kindness or The Night Before Christmas: 5 Must Have Books.