Biographies of Artists

Steptoe, Javaka. Radiant Child: the Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Brilliant double-page illustrations help tell the true story of a collage-style New York artist who died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of only 27. The colour, energy, and detail in Steptoe’s paintings are astonishing.  An afterward tells more about both Basquiat and Steptoe and could be used to start all sorts of discussions on the effect of childhood experiences and the nature of creativity. This sophisticated picture book – winner of the Caldecott Medal – is highly recommended for artists of all ages. [Artists; Caldecott Medal; Creativity; New York (City)]

Dreamer from the Village

Dreamer from the Village: the Story of Marc Chagall  by Michelle Markel  (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2005).


Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen (Mankato, MN: Creative Paperbacks, 2013).
Imaginative poems and explanatory paragraphs accompany illustrations of the artist’s works.

The Scraps

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert (La Jolla, Calif.: Beach Lane Books, 2014.)
This well-known collage artist explains how she get her ideas and creates her wonderful picture books.

Mao and Me by Chen Jiang Hong (Enchanted Lion Books, 2008).
Writer and artist Chen Jiang Hong tells the story of his Chinese childhood during  the 1960s. The finely detailed pen-and-ink and paint illustrations add emotional power to a quiet, understated memoir of the upheaval created by the Cultural Revolution.

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014).

Noisy Paint Box

The Noisy Paint Box: the Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Bogart, Jo Ellen. Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis. Toronto: Tundra Books ; Plattsburgh, N.Y.: Tundra Books of Northern New York, 2002.
Scenes of everyday life by a self-trained artist: horses pulling sleighs, cows grazing in fields, children walking to school, fishing boats on the sea. Maud Lewis – one of Canada’s greatest folk artists – didn’t follow all the rules regarding proportion and perspective. She didn’t include shadows in her scenes of summer. She sometimes painted impossible things, such as flowers on evergreen trees or snowy valleys surrounded by green hills. But all the time, her paintings were full of joy, even though her own life was full of hardship. This biography – illustrated by Mark Lang – isn’t the most well-designed picture book: the font is too small and serious; and the layout doesn’t reflect the happiness of the full-page colourful paintings. But the text is full of information and so the book would be useful as a read-aloud for children eight years old and up. It would be especially valuable as an introduction to a lesson on folk art or a unit on facing adversity with courage.  

A Bird or Two: a Story about Henri Matisse by Bijou Le Tord (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1999).

Colourful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse by Marjorie Blain Parker (Dial Books for Younger Readers, 2012).

Matisse's Garden

Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friendman (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014).

“One day, the French artist Henri Matisse cut a small bird out of a piece of paper. It looked lonely all by itself, so he cut out more shapes to join it. Before he knew it, Matisse had transformed his walls into larger-than-life gardens, filled with brightly colored plants, animals, and shapes of all sizes! Featuring cut-paper illustrations and interactive foldout pages.” – CIP

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

 The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012).

This vividly illustrated picture book biography, written in present tense, is recommended for readers 8 to 14-years-old. [France; Painters; Rousseau, Henri]

Drawing from Memory

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say (Scholastic Press, 2011). 
Drawing From Memory (Scholastic Press, 2011) by Caldecott medal winner Allen Say is an inspiring story about Allen Say’s life. His life was very eventful and also very interesting. This book starts with Allen telling what he did as a kid. All he did as a kid was read and draw. Their family had to escape the war and move quickly. But during that chaos, all Allen wanted to do was draw, and his parents and grandparents hated him for it. His Grandmother finally told him hat if he got into this very well known private middle school, she would rent an apartment for him at the age of 12. Allen of course studied everyday hoping to pass the entrance exam. Once he passed the exam, his Grandmother rented him a place in an apartment. This only reason his Grandmother sent him to the apartment was so he could study for his new school, but the only thing on Allen’s mind was to draw, and draw, and draw. After going out to dinner, Allen picks up the local newspaper at the restaurant. He starts to read about another kid who ran away from home just to draw. He soon got taken in by Allen’s favorite artist, Noro Shinpei. Noro gave him a test just as bad as the middle school exam. Allen passed and became the second apprentice of Noro Shinpei.
This book was creatively coloured. But this book was also very inspiring and interesting. I loved this book, because Allen’s life is very like mine. I often feel like Allen. (Kelvin in grade eight)

Levinson, Cynthia. The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021.
Ben’s first memory was of drawing. At home, in his little Lithuanian village, he longed to draw everything he could see. But he also cared about justice. After his father escaped from imprisonment by Czar Nicholas II, the family moved to America in 1906, where Ben continued to draw pictures. By the time he died in 1969, he had become known as “the people’s painter,” an artist who drew attention to injustices in society. This sophisticated picture book – with full-page illustrations by Evan Turk and a lengthy afterward with additional information – is highly recommended for readers 9 years old and up.
P.S. References to people and events in American history may be unfamiliar to some readers, so this story would be ideal as a read-aloud and discussion.
P.P.S. I’m partial to picture book biographies. They let me learn about someone by reading a short story that gets to the heart of someone’s character. There are so many books to read and so many topics to learn about that I don’t always have time to read long books. Picture books can be just right, even for adults.

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