A reference question on picturebooks about art

A patron emailed me looking for books to use in a class she is teaching called “Books and Art” for four and five year olds.  Amazing!  She was looking for picturebooks to use as read-alouds to inspire the chidlers’ projects – specfically books about creating art or using colour.

In an ideal world, I would have taken five days to answer this and sent her an annotated list of 100 books.  Then I would have gone home to read a new book by James Mashall  In reality, I had about 20 minutes and I went home to eat some Pilsbury Easter cookies I got for 35% off.  I thought it might be fun to share what I came up with.

Keep in mind that I was limited by what is in my library’s collection (we’re not super teensy, but we’re not huge either.  We serve about 33,000 people and are the only library in town).  Because I was short on time, I relied on my own knowledge but discovered 2 or 3 of the titles while browsing – yay for serendipity!  I also wanted to include some Canadian titles because I’m pretty gung-ho about promoting Canadian books.  I know I’m probably missing a buncha titles, so please feel free to leave more suggestions in the Comments.

Also, sorry that the books aren’t in any kind of order.  They were originally organized according to what was in and what was on loan at my library.  I also don’t have the authors and illustrators listed (where applicable) because we catalogue our picturebooks by author.  The annotations are the same ones I included in my response to the patron.

Picturebooks With an Art Theme for Reading Aloud to 4/5 Year Olds

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau – John Agee
A classic story about an artist who paints animals..that come to life!

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – Karen Beaumont
An artistic take on the song “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.”  A boy who gets in trouble for painting on the walls takes matters into his own hands and paints his whole body!

White is For Blueberry – George Shannon
A concept book that explores the not-so-obvious colours of familiar things – the black centre of a poppy, the green top of a turnip, and the purple hue of shadows on the snow.

I’m the Best Artist in the Ocean – Kevin Sherry
A big, bright, hilarious story about a giant squid who loves to paint.

My Many Colored Days – Dr. Seuss
A very sensitive offering from Seuss about the connotations of different colours.

The Party – Barbara Reid
While not about art, this book is noteworthy because the illustrations are done entirely in plasticine.  Reid is internationally known for her work with plasticine and has many, many stellar books.

The Dot – Peter H. Reynolds
Vashti hates making art but learns that even a random dot of ink can bring inspiration.

Draw Me a Star – Eric Carle
This is essentially a creation story about an artist who draws the world – starting with a single star.  There are directions at the end showing children how to draw the stars in the book.

Augustine – Melanie Watt
Augustine is a penguin who idolizes famous artists.  When she moves to a new school, her art helps her overcome her shyness.

The Imaginary Garden – Andrew Larsen.  Illustrations by Irene Luxbacher
This book actually includes painting lessons within the story.  After a young girl’s grandfather has to leave his beautiful home garden to relocate to an apartment, the pair find an artistic solution by painting a garden on a giant canvas.  The text might be a little long for a read-aloud for 4s and 5s, but it is really worth checking out.

Art and Max – David Wiesner
A perfect story for beginning artists with stunning, semi-surreal artwork about two reptilian friends.

Harold and the Purple Crayon – Crockett Johnson
A classic.  Harold steps into his own drawings and has all sorts of adventures.

Dog’s Colourful Day – Emma Dodd
A simple, engaging story about a white dog who gets into a rainbow of messes after his daily walk.  Any of Emma Dodd’s books are fantastic for this age group.

The Black Book of Colors – Menena Cottin
A completely one-of-a-kind book done all in black.  Different colours are described with words and with textured pages.  It gives very young children a sense of what it would be like to see the world without sight and to essentially “feel” different colours.

I got a very lovely thank-you email from the patron after she received the list saying how inspired she is now.  Can’t ask for anything more!  (plus, 4/14 Canadian books ain’t bad!)

Picture Book Creators Dear and Dead – Readers Theatre Style

I haven’t yet done a post about how much James Marshall meant to me as a kid (and how much he still means to me as an old, festering adult) but the short version is that I was (and am) obsessed with his books.  It was just me and my mams growing up so I spent all of my time either reading or engaging in high-concept, multi-part dramas with my Maple Town figurines.  I found Marshall uproariously funny and would spend hours trying to draw Fox and Eugene and Emily (note: I am not artistically inclined).  This obsession bled into my adult life in the form of my easy reader thesis and hyperventilating in the Kerlan Collection.  Oh, and my general, all-encompassing personal and professional interest in young people’s literature.

I get giddy anytime I see anything about James Marshall; a new tidbit of information, a mention, anything.  So, when I stumbled across Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators by Suzanne I. Barchers and Charla R. Pfeffinger, I was so excited to see James Marshall’s name in the Table of Contents.  I scrambled to the page and found the header “The Trouble with a Pen Name: James Edward Marshall 1942-1992.”  Then there was “Summary and Background Information,” “Presentation Suggestions,” and some “Introductory and Follow-Up Suggestions”  followed by a three and a half page interview script with “James Marshall.”  I was so excited to see Marshall’s name that I didn’t really even bother to understand the premise of the book.

The premise of the book is this:

The scripts in Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators provides students with a snapshot of the lives of thirty-six well-known authors, illustrators, and poets.  Drawn from biographies, autobiographies, interviews, news articles, obituaries, and Internet sources, the essential facts of each person’s story have been carefully researched.  The conversations, however, are largely fictional.

Each picture book creator essentially has one “theme” that sums up the trajectory of their readers theatre script; Hans Christian Andersen’s dad was a shoemaker, Kate Greenaway liked dolls, and James Marshall sometimes used a pen name.

Oh yes, and every single person featured in the book is dead.

My initial reactions went something like this:

“Aaahhhh!  This book is chalk-full of  made-up words of dead people!  Children’s book zombies!”

“What the $*%*)@*!?  Marshall used a pen name, like, a handful of times!  Why the *#)($** would they have a **%(*#! pen name define the career of a #@)@## genius like Marshall!?  This is so reductive, I could spit.”

“HUH!?  Marshall would have never said that.”

“Oh, that’s convenient.  Leave out the part where he was tipsy when he made up Edward Marshall’s back story!  Looks like someone didn’t read page 98 of Leonard Marcus’ Ways of Telling!” [This is, of course, a ridiculous response, as primary grade children probably don’t need to know what is imbibed at lengthy publishing lunches.]

After having a good steam, and hunting for omissions and inaccuracies, I realized that my evaluation was, perhaps, coming from the wrong place – the place in me that thinks of James Marshall (and many of the other authors in this book) as someone I love and know, and therefore feel I must protect. Because the truth is, I would have loved to play James Marshall in my Grade 2 class (God help the teacher if she had selected someone else) and I think educators could really find this book useful.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake my protective feelings.  Why invent words when, more often than not, these authors and illustrators left behind brilliant words on their own work and craft?  Aren’t there so many other, more authentic ways to get children excited about picture books?

Perhaps these feelings would be less acute if James Marshall (and all the other geniuses in the book like Lobel and Steig, etc.) were still alive and were still able to speak for themselves.  Or if my love and respect for Marshall’s work wasn’t cranked up so high.

My mom made me get super embarrassing "casual" photos when I got the mandatory picture for the graduation composite. I'm holding a Marshall book in every one (note that I stole the crappy, low-res version of the photo from the company website via the power of the screenshot! Stickin' it to tha man...)