My oldest is a budding artist and while I have failed to support this interest with extracurricular activities to improve her skills, I have finally seen the light and enrolled her in a week of real art camp. Not the arts and crafts variety. She draws daily such that I tend to push activities that are opposite to art to round her out: math, reading, music, languages, and sports.
My mom friends are more on top of things.
One mom friend suggested an excellent art book from Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art as a birthday present. Hey, I did buy her the book (and it’s excellent). And I took her to the Eric Carle Museum. But now I am trying to be more supportive. We bought a family pass to the Museum of Fine Arts to increase our trips from annual to quarterly. I put her in camps that have more interesting and in-depth art offerings. And I keep these books around the house. Most of them at least.
Best Books for Artistic Kids
10. Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert Tangrams
An ancient game originating in China is the basis for a story that creatively tweaks the tangrams into an animal transformation tale. Copy and cut out the tangram in the back to make your own shapes, stories, and games. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
9. I Spy: An Alphabet in Art by Lucy Micklethwait
It’s an I Spy game. It’s an art book. It’s an alphabet book. It’s fun for kids of all ages. And it forces you to closely examine art masterpieces. What’s not to love about that? [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Masterful and Newbery award-winning author Konigsberg brings the enigma of the Mona Lisa to life in a story about Leonardo da Vinci, his assistant, and the Duke of Milan’s plain, young wife. The Mona Lisa, it turns out, is an enigma on many levels. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
7. Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art by the Eric Carle Museum
A real gem of a book that feels like 23 major illustrators, including many Caldecott winning picture book illustrators, talking directly to children as if they were in the same room with them about how they came to be professional illustrators. Their studios are included and range from a simple tiny wooden desk to a full-blown decked-out studio. It’s reason alone to get this book. [non-fiction, ages 8 and up]
6. The Shape Game by Anthony Browne
A trip to the museum morphs into a fun doodle game. I play this game with my kids to get them to do supplemental math problems. (Every correct answer gets a doodle!) This book won a ton of awards including The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
5. Ish by Peter Reynolds
This is a book that every budding artist should read particularly those who are perfectionists or are easily discouraged — hey! artists can be sensitive! When Ramon’s brother makes fun of his drawing because it isn’t representational, he learns that art can be “ish-like” and still elicit a response. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
4. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Called the Da Vinci Code for kids, Balliet combines an art quest mystery centering around Dutch master artist Vermeer. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
3. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
A cardboard box can be magical with the help of your imagination. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
2. The Art Book for Children, Book Two from the Editors of Phaidon Press
A wonderful reference book for kids on 500 artists (painters and sculptors) starting from the Renaissance period up through modern times. It’s fun to look at and your child will say, “Hey, I can do that!” And it will be true! [non-fiction, ages 6 and up]
1. A Nickel, A Trolley, A Treasure House by Sharon Reiss Baker
Sharon Reiss Baker shares a family memory about Lionel, who as a boy at the turn of the century in Lower East Side Manhattan, drew on any scrap of paper he could find. One lucky day, Lionel finds a nickel that he spends on precious paper from the stationer’s shop. He shows his teacher his drawings and she takes him on a trip to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The trip is magical for Lionel. He has never been inside this world and it changes his life such that he decides to become an artist when he grows up even though it is against his family’s wishes. And he succeeds. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Art Books for Kids Honorable Mention
Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art by Michael Bird, illustrated by Kate Evans
I got this book for my 16-year-old, Grasshopper and Sensei, who is arty and just completed the Rhode Island School of Design Pre-College Program this past summer. She and I are both drooling over this book. Beautifully illustrated on every page, this book brings the artists and major paintings that they created alive! Each story covers the artist’s life but in a way that draws the reader in because it’s a story and not a straight-up (boring) biography. You can flip from chapter to chapter to read about particular artists or periods of art as you choose, or read it from start to finish in historical order. The beauty of this book is that it works for a wide range of ages. It also works beautifully as a read-aloud for art history, either at home or in an art class. My daughter and I have read a lot of art history books for kids and this one is by far the best one we’ve ever run across. This is worth the investment! [art history chapter book, ages 6 and up]
The Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel That Teaches You How to Draw by Mark Crilley
I thought this book would be good for my son, age 11, who likes to draw manga but won’t necessarily take a drawing class. He also likes graphic novels, so this seems like a winning combination to teach art theory in an accessible and fun step-by-step way. The book uses an appealing storyline to draw readers in and then the protagonists are then student and teacher for the reader. I will throw this book on the floor of my son’s room and see if he gravitates towards it. I think he will! [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang
If you recognize the name Molly Bang — perhaps from her Caldecott honor book When Sophie Gets Angry, Really Really Angry — it’s not a stretch to have her explain how to get emotion into very simple shape drawings. Can it be done? Absolutely. She takes us step by step how she uses colors, shapes, composition, and more to evoke emotion.
The question is who would gravitate towards this book? Anyone interested in illustration as a career, of course! But also kids who like analysis to explain why artworks or doesn’t work. I would give this to my 16-year-old who spent the summer at the Rhode Island School of Design Pre-College Program. [art drawing theory nonfiction book, ages 15 and up]
I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
In this historical fiction novel, Juan de Pareja, an educated Negro slave during the seventeenth century, ends up as the property and personal assistant of the great master painter for the Spanish court, Velazquez. Life in the court of King Philip IV of Spain comes alive through the eyes of Juan. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Two siblings seek out the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ok, they are actually running away from home, hideout at the Met, and solve a great art mystery. Great for budding artists who like museums. I think the trick to this book is to read the first chapter with your child as it’s a bit confusing. [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Michelangelo for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Simonetta Carr
This is an in-depth biography of Michelangelo that is substantial enough for adults. Kids doing a research project on Michelangelo will find it useful, but the average reader, even those who are arty, might find this to be too serious, too long, and too lengthy to read. The 21 activities, though, bring the book down to a younger audience. I would recommend using the activities and small segments of the book in an art class, for a book club for kids, or for homeschooling art history with art projects. While there are some kids who will want to read the entire book, most will not. [nonfiction advanced chapter book, ages 10 and up]
p.s. More Art Gift Ideas for Kids here:
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.