Art that is created for picture books is amazing stuff – it’s diverse, it’s accessible, it’s designed to help tell a story and it’s right there in front of us. To gaze on, ponder, critique, adore or wonder at.
Art created as a stand alone piece is a different story, pardon the pun. In this collection, we’ve selected 6 books designed for children to view and appreciate and talk about the paintings and art works of the masters.
Let’s start with Quentin Blake’s Tell Me A Picture. Sir Quentin selected 26 works of art from the National Gallery (in England) that tell a story. And then he illustrated the facing pages in and around the art works, with children and adults discussing the works and the stories that might come from them. It’s a delightful book – great and varied choices of artists and works - and lots of fun to read and talk about. My favourite: Nameless and Friendless by Emily Mary Osborn.
A is for Art is a series of photographs of abstract pieces prepared by Stephen T Johnson. Each one relates to a letter of the alphabet and the letter is hidden within the work – there’s abundance on each page and an alliterated verse to help you know what to look for. Here’s an example: The letter N page is titled Nocturne and the verse reads, “Number nineteen is next to the letter N; nearby, the number nine neighbors a Naples yellow number ninety-nine.”
A really enjoyable way to spend an afternoon – this is also great for kids who are a little older and who still need to work on sounds etc.
I Spy Numbers in Art by Lucy Micklethwait is one of a large series. This one is a counting book as well as an art book. Each page shows a famous artwork and the facing page says simply, “I spy one fly’…or … ‘two eyes’…etc up to… ‘twenty angels.’
The art works are well known, although there will probably be a couple of new pieces for most people. They allow for lots of discussion besides the counting and they’re beautiful pieces.
I Spy an Alphabet in Art from the same series by Lucy Micklethwait is very much along the same lines – this time the facing page says, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with …” And there’s plenty to look for on each page. The series of books includes books with paintings about children, shapes, animals, dogs, cats and so on.
I really like that each piece of art is given a page of its own so there’s plenty of white space around the works.
The Art Book for Children and The Art Book for Children Two are a bit more of a guided tour through the art world. It's easy to see that ours were well loved – the pages are gritty from dirty little fingers turning them often.
The books take a wider approach to art and include photographs of sculptures and installations. Each art work is accompanied by a brief story about the work, a few thought provoking questions, a couple of tips for things to look for and often ideas about producing something inspired by the work. Both books cover a very broad range of genres and span a large timeline.
So which books were most loved? Stephen T Johnson's A is for Art and Quentin Blake’s Tell me a Picture are winners at our house. But I've sometimes taken the whole lot (along with a few others) to groups of children and I can never guess which will be most appealing. All of them are well worn, that’s for certain.
I’m not sure that I can credit these books alone, but they all impacted in some way on my Peet’s interest in art and art curation. And they also impacted on some of my less artistically driven children.
There’s a certain confidence that comes to children when they go to galleries and art shows if they are familiar with a wide range of artistic genres . . . and I think these books help a lot with that. I hope you find one or two that really speak to you.