These books get to the heart of art

Books - May 2006


Judy Belanger

This month’s theme is art and artists. I found all the selections below fascinating, and I hope you will too. The first three books are about artist Leonardo da Vinci. But he wasn’t just an artist—he was a scientist and inventor as well.

If these books make you curious, you and your kids can find out more about him at the "Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius" exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry through Sept. 4 or see his artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Also, How to Talk to Children About Art is reviewed in the parent books column (page 30). It provides information on how to help your children enjoy art.

WHO WAS LEONARDO DA VINCI?, by Roberta Edwards, illustrated by True Kelley, Grosset & Dunlap, $4.99; ages 8-12.

Born out of wedlock, Leonardo da Vinci was a child nobody wanted. He was given to his grandparents but, fortunately for him, taken care of by an uncle. Da Vinci not only showed talent as an artist, he also had a curiosity about everything around him and was always seeking new information. Unfortunately, much of his energy went into half-finishing projects. Only 10 of his paintings were ever finished. There are many other books in this "Who Was" series, which makes reading biographies enjoyable.

AMAZING LEONARDO DA VINCI INVENTIONS YOU CAN BUILD YOURSELF, by Maxine Anderson, Nomad Press, $14.95; ages 9 and up.

The author gives readers some background information about the Renaissance, the time in which da Vinci lived 500 years ago. It helps readers understand why some of his inventions were ahead of their time. Da Vinci, who was dyslexic, filled many books with his ideas written in mirror writing.

DA WILD, DA CRAZY, DA VINCI, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley, Viking, $14.99; ages 7 and up.

Now that you know all about da Vinci, go with Sam, Joe and Fred as the Time Warp Trio travels back 500 years in time to visit him. The three boys want to ask da Vinci about his inventions. When they meet up with da Vinci he is working on a tank because there is a war going on. Capt. Nassti is unhappy because the tank isn’t finished. The three boys help da Vinci with a plan to get the enemy to surrender. When they accomplish this task the magic mist appears and the three can return home.

THROUGH GEORGIA’S EYES, by Rachel Rodriguez, illustrated by Julie Paschkis, Henry Holt, $16.95; ages 4-8.

By the time she was 12, Georgia O’Keeffe knew she wanted to be an artist, although women artists were unheard of in early 1900. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago to become an art teacher, which is what her mother wanted. From Chicago, she went to New York to continue her studies; there her work was noticed while on display in an art gallery. She liked visiting New Mexico where she enjoyed her later years painting flowers and landscapes.

I AM MARC CHAGALL, text and illustrations by Bimba Landmann, Eerdmans, $18; ages 7 and up.

Marc Chagall grew up in Vitebsk, Russia. From a young age he wanted to be an artist, but his family insisted he go to school in the rabbi’s house and learn the Jewish religion. His mother took Marc and his paintings to an art teacher to be evaluated, where she was told he had talent. He quickly learned that being an artist would not be easy. The information in this story is based loosely on Chagall’s autobiography. Bimba Landmann’s fascinating illustrations are done in 3-D mixed media. She uses cardboard for rooms and houses, dried plants for trees and bushes, and cloth for clothes. Hanging on the walls are pictures representing Chagall’s work. A helpful time line of Chagall’s life is included.

PAUL CEZANNE: A PAINTER’S JOURNEY, by Robert Burleigh, Abrams, $17.95; ages 9-12.

Like many other artists, Cezanne had to work hard for his fame because his family did not support him and his father wanted him to pursue "serious" work. He also struggled because as a boy he showed little artistic talent. He is an example of a person who succeeded and became successful because of determination and hard work. He tried to continually improve his work while painting not only landscapes but also still lifes and portraits. He and his friend Camille Pissarro would often paint the same scene, showing how two artists envision the same things in different ways.

ONCE UPON A PICTURE, by Sally Swain, Allen & Unwin, $16.95; ages 6-9.

Four pictures by famous artists are featured: "The Umbrellas" by Auguste Renoir, "The Twittering Machine" by Paul Klee, "The Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh and "Tiger in a Tropical Storm" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A question is presented for each picture. "The Umbrellas" shows a little girl standing with a hoop, and the question is "What does she want to do?" Swain shows a series of pictures to suggest the little girl wants to play with the hoop while her mother says "No!" Helping children to use their imaginations like this is an easy way to get them involved in learning that art can be fun and exciting.

SEEN ART?, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Viking, $16.99; ages 8 and up.

He was standing on the corner of 5th and 53rd in New York waiting for his friend. When he didn’t see him, he asked a lady if she had seen Art. She directs him down the street to MoMa (the Museum of Modern Art). His journey continues through the halls of MoMa looking for Art. Everyone he meets points to their favorite painting. When he walks outside of the building, there’s Art. Scieszka and Smith have partnered again for another fun book for children. (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is another.) Included are small copies of each favorite painting, including title and artist, to explain what the young boy saw in the museum.

CAN YOU FIND IT, TOO?, by Judith Cressy, Harry N. Abrams, $15.95; ages 7-10.

If you have gone beyond Where’s Waldo and are looking for something more challenging, this book will meet that requirement and be fun as it explores ways to view art. The author presents 20 works from various art museums and suggests items to find in each picture. A smaller version of each picture is reproduced in the back of the book showing where the items are located, along with background information about the works. Once you’ve read this, you can then pose similar questions when you visit an art museum with your kids.


Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.


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