It’s your job as a parent to nurture artistic expression in your child, which can be tough if you can barely draw a stick figure or if their expression comes in the form of painting the dog blue. One surefire technique is to inspire them with stories of the masters, namely these 10 legends who helped the world see art in a whole new way. Read them at bedtime and remember: even Picasso’s parents probably had to wash a priceless original or 2 off the wall.
The Noisy Paint BoxThis vividly illustrated telling of Vasily Kandinsky’s life explores the pioneering abstract artist’s synesthesia — a condition that leads those who have it to “hear” colors (among other things). The book will give your kid an appreciation for art and the weird quirks that their brains are capable of. So might the “Synesthesia” Wikipedia entry, but that wasn’t a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book.
The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPre ($21)
Uncle Andy’sThe son of a country junkman who builds scrap metal sculptures on his lawn (and whose brother is Andy Warhol), James Warhola recalls a hilarious family visit to “Uncle Andy’s.” Warhol’s New York pad also houses his mother, 25 cats named “Sam,” and a heap of clutter, which annoys James’ mother until she realizes art is everywhere and anything can be art. Remind yourself of that whenever you hang your kid’s latest scribble on the fridge.
Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola ($6)
Sandy’s CircusShow your child how much you support them by reading the story of Sandy Calder, who was so encouraged by his artist parents that he rose to prominence staging performances with an elaborate wire-sculpted circus, which filled 5 suitcases that he hauled from New York to Paris and back. For the parents of an art student, the only greater test of their dedication would have been if their son had joined the actual circus.
Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone and Boris Kulikov ($13)
Action JacksonThis Sibert Honor Book (given to the “most distinguished informational books” of the year), uses the creation of Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) as the introduction to the story of Jackson Pollock’s working life. Jordan’s incredible illustrations evoke Jackson’s style as the book reveals how Jackson became a reference point for all 20th-century artists and led parents everywhere to start asking themselves, “Wait … is what Junior just did to the wall ‘art’?”
Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan, and Robert Andrew Parker ($7)
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri RousseauThe self-taught Rousseau overcame some aggressively harsh reviews (seriously, 19th century French art critic, what’s your problem?) to become an internationally celebrated artist. Through his story, your kid will learn that anything is possible with perseverance, even if they didn’t already have such incredibly loving, supportive, encouraging, amazing parents.
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel and Amanda Hall ($12)
A Splash Of RedMeanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a young Horace Pippin is overcomes his own obstacles on the way to artistic renown. Pippin’s words and recreations of his art are interspersed throughout the book, which mostly lets the illustrations tell his story, including how a World War I gunshot wound nearly ended his painting career before it even started. Getting sent to bed without dessert will seem pedestrian by comparison.
A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet ($13)
My Name Is GeorgiaThis book is all about painting the world as you see it — in O’Keeffe’s words, “BIG, so people would notice” — and letting everyone else see it as they see it. No need for you to get into exactly how everyone else sees it. That’s another book on another subject entirely.
My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter ($7)
Dave The PotterIf the 19th century potter and poet named simply “Dave,” a slave who lived and worked in Edgefield, South Carolina, is unfamiliar, go get this gorgeous Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Award winner right now. It describes the creation of a stoneware jug in words that echo the 2-line poems Dave etched into many of his, and provides author’s notes detailing what little is known about his story. Now you get to learn from your kid’s books, too.
Dave The Potter by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier ($12)
Viva FridaAnother 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, Viva Frida tells Frida Kahlo’s story through simple captions that adorn lusciously illustrated pages combining photography, painting, and digital effects. Bonus point for bilingual copy, which will teach your kid some basic Spanish (although it doesn’t include “bigote” anywhere, so you’ll have to explain Kahlo’s mustache to them yourself).
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales and Tim O’Meara ($15)
ImogenIf your kid demands to know why you have to incessantly photograph them all the time, read them the story of Imogen Cunningham, which details how a young girl became a photographer and how her sons playing in the garden led her to her most famous subjects. If her boys let her launch a movement, your kids can let you update Grandma.
Imogen by Amy Novesky and Lisa Congdon ($11)