Great artists don’t just come from nowhere. Their childhood experiences shape who they become and their decision to make a career out of their craft. Some artists are born into wealthy families and some are born into poverty. Some are inspired by a particular culture, religion, or city. Some have a fantastic schooling experience and some are high-school dropouts. No one artist is the same and they all have an interesting story to tell!
This post features 5 children’s books about famous artists. These publications are a fantastic way for young children to learn about these great minds and how they came to be!
Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring by Michael Burgess and Josh Cochran (Enchanted Lion Books, 2020, 64 pages, $18.95. Ages 4-8 years)
Keith Haring loved to draw! In fact, he drew everywhere he went. One of his favorite canvases was unused advertising billboards on the New York subway – a form of public art that he would become famous for!
During the 1980s, Haring was the face of the underground art scene in New York. One of the most celebrated living artists of his time, people all over the world adored his cartoon-esque drawings. He also loved to work with people when making art, especially children. Haring once famously said,
“Whatever else I am, I am sure I, at least have been a good companion to a lot of children and maybe have touched their lives in a way that will be passed on through time.”
Haring was also a big advocate for the LGBTQ community and sadly died at the peak of his career from complications related to AIDS.
‘Drawing on Walls’ is a beautiful celebration of Haring’s life. Illustrated in a similar style to the artist’s graffiti-like artworks, Matthew Burgess tells the complete story of the artist, from his upbringing in Pennsylvania, his move to New York City, his sexuality, and his tragic death at age 31. A beautiful story of a beautiful person!
The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane Book, 2017, 56 pages. Ages 5-11)
Baghdad-born architect Zaha Hadid was deeply inspired by the natural landscapes of Iraq and the world around her, which she famous stated as ‘not being a rectangle.’ Hadid’s buildings were famous for their unusual designs that often featured sharp angles, huge curves, and structures emerging from the landscape.
‘The World is Not a Rectangle’ shares the amazing story of Zaha’s life. From her childhood in Iraq – where she often visited deserts, marches, and ancient ruins that inspired her buildings – to her university studies in London, her early career knockbacks, and her eventual success as one of the most celebrated female architects in history.
Jeanette Winter connects each of Zaha’s famous buildings to the childhood experience and objects that inspired it. Like a football stadium inspired by seashells. This book is a wonderful reminder of how thinking outside the box and working hard can get you far in life! It celebrates Zaha’s creativity and incredible tenacity that will continue to inspire children for generations to come.
Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and Christopher Myers (Museum of Modern Art publishing, 2015, 44 pages, $19.00. Ages 6-11)
Jacob Lawrence is an American artist best known for his paintings that celebrate African-American contemporary culture. Growing up in Harlem, New York, he found creative inspiration in the people, places, and colors of his local community.
‘Jake Makes a World’ shares the story of the artist’s early life and his experience of being surrounded by the bright African patterns in his family home, seeing boys sell fruit on the sidewalk, and the church preacher singing. He then transforms these experiences into artworks at the after-school art studio he attends each day.
I love this book as it celebrates how the everyday experiences of a child can be a source of deep creative inspiration!
Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry by Fausto Gilberti (Phaidon Press, 2020, 48 pages. Ages 4-8 years)
‘Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry’ tells the story of the quirky and beloved contemporary artist. The story beings by sharing her fascination with drawing imaginative pictures of Japanese flowers and plants.
Kusama yearns of becoming a famous artist and moves to New York City to chase her dream. There she meets Georgia O’Keefe who helps her get her first solo exhibition in America. Kusama creates paintings, clothing, installations, and sculptures, all of which she enthusiastically covers in thousands of colorful dots! As her fame escalates, her mental health declines and she eventually returns to Japan for care. Kusama, now aged 91, still makes every day with her art being shown in famous museums all over the world.
Fausto Gilberti’s storytelling depicts the crazy and quirky life of one of the most important female artists of recent times. This book celebrates the importance of individuality and chasing your dreams even when others think they are not possible.
Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown and John Parra (NorthSouth Books, 2020, 40 pages, $17.95. Ages 6-11)
Frida Kahlo’s vibrant and bold self-portraits are some of the most beloved and recognizable images in the history of art. The children’s book ‘Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos’ is based on the life of the influential Mexican painter and the pet animals – two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a cat, and a fawn- that inspired her art.
The storyline traces key moments in Frida’s life including her childhood illness, a crippling car accident as a teen, her relationship with fellow painter Diego Rivera, and the amazing paintings she created that told her life stories. Her animals were by her side through the ups and downs of her dramatic life. She adored them so much, she often painted them into her art. John Parra’s illustrations are colorful, fun, and quirky just like the life of its lead character!
I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I did. They are a great resource for any young creative mind!