A Boy Named Isamu

Yang, James. A Boy Named Isamu. New York, New York: Viking, 2021.
Do you enjoy observing the world around you? Do you like wondering about what you see? Are you ever alone but not lonely because you are busy thinking? Isamu is a boy whose imagination can fill an entire day in this elegant picture book inspired by the life of the artist Isamu Noguchi. Photographs and an author’s note at the end tell more about the Japanese American sculptor and landscape designer born in 1904. Recommended for children who are full of their own questions about the world.

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The People’s Painter

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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Paper Son

Leung, Julie. Paper Son : the Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019.
In 1919, a nine-year-old boy left his home in China to move to America with his father. Every night on the long voyage across the ocean, he memorized the answers he would need to correctly answer the questions sure to be asked by immigration officials. Years later, after studying art in California, he became one of the animators who helped create Disney’s famous film, Bambi. This beautiful picture book – accompanied by photographs and historical information – is highly recommended for readers 8 years old and up.

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Silent Days, Silent Dreams

Say, Allen. Silent Days, Silent Dreams. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017.
What must it be like to be deaf and mute? What must it be like to be autistic and perhaps even dyslexic, as well?
James Castle was born in 1899 on a farm in Utah. He spent most of his life in an abandoned chicken house and a small mobile home creating astonishing works of art. Drawing with sticks dipped in soot and saliva on scraps of discarded paper, he produced thousands of pictures before his death in 1977. Today, his work is shown in major galleries around the world.
Allen Say’s stunning picture book about the life of James Castle is told from the point of view of the artist’s nephew. It is hauntingly illustrated using materials similar to the artist’s and supplemented with an extensive author’s note and bibliography. Highly recommended for readers and artists 11 years old and up.

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Waiting…

Haseley, Dennis. Twenty Heartbeats. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2008.
We are often so sure of our thoughts. So sure of our beliefs. Sometimes, though, we are so wrong that when we discover our error, we can scarcely breathe. That abrupt enlightenment is at the heart of this picture book illustrated by the inimitable Ed Young.
A wealthy man hires an artist to paint a picture of his favourite horse. Years pass. The painting does not arrive. Finally, enraged, the man goes to the artist. Where is the painting? What has taken so long?
This elegant reflective story is recommended for readers and listeners six years old and up. You’ll smile and listen differently afterwards.

(Note to aspiring writers and illustrators: Notice the feeling at the end of the story: the sense of being pulled up to a sudden stop. Look at the last illustration: notice the posture of the horse. Then think about the power of illustrations to do more than show the events of a story.)

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What do you see?

Verplanke, Klaas. Magritte’s Apple. New York: The Museum Of Modern Art, 2016.
Each artist has a unique vision of the world. René Magritte’s vision was a fantastical world of floating boulders and ships made of water. This gentle picture book humorously introduces readers to Magritte’s surrealist style. The full-page illustrations inspire wonder and encourage reflection. The historical notes at the end provide background information. Useful as an introduction to surrealism or a discussion on creativity.

More about surrealism HERE.

More books on artists HERE.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” – Pablo Picasso

Canadian, eh?

Patterson, Heather. I Am Canada: A Celebration.Toronto: North Winds Press, 2017.
What does it mean to be a Canadian? This book joyously answers the question in simple language suitable for young children. The illustrations take the book to a whole new level: Marie-Louise Gay, Jon Klassen, Barbara Reid and other Canadian artists depict Canada, each in their own unique style. A wonderful book for art students and a great book as a read-aloud for children up to 8 years of age.

More books by Canadian authors HERE

Stories set in Canada HERE