Art can be intimidating to people whether they are looking at it or trying to make it. Even to children, usually you won’t find that attitude in kindergarten. It’s tragic how quickly students develop the idea that they can’t do it, and therefore don’t want to do it. Also, they quickly decide they don’t understand it, and therefore don’t want to talk about it. The wonderful thing about Children’s books is they create a shared experience when reading the book to the whole class. Here are four Children’s books I have discovered, that have strong messages to help your inner artist, as well as the budding artists in your classroom to feel less intimidated by art, and more inspired by it.
Ish and The Dot
The first two Children’s books I recommend are both by writer and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. They deal with young reluctant, or struggling artists. Ish is about a little boy named Ramon who loved to draw until his brother made fun of his art work. Ramon becomes critical of his work, because it doesn’t look “right”. His subjects don’t come out looking exactly as they appear to him in real life.
After months of crumpling up paper, Ramon is astonished to discover that his little sister has been hanging up his crumpled work and creating a gallery in her room. She points to a drawing of a vase and tells him it’s her favorite. When Ramon explains that it was supposed to be a vase of flowers, his sister observes that it looks “vase-ISH” and this idea of thinking “ishly” frees Ramon to once again create his style of art. “And Ramon lived ish-fully ever after.”
The second is entitled The Dot about an artist named Vashti who stares at a blank paper and doesn’t know where to start. Her art teacher encourages her, “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” When Vashti makes an angry stab at the paper and her art teacher has her sign it, the teacher then frames and hangs this dot and transforms the way Vashti sees it.
Vashti becomes freed and embarks on the creation of many different colors, sizes and placements of dots. At a showing of her work another child compliments her and Vashti encourages him just as her teacher had encouraged her. Both of these Children’s books are beautiful stories which help de-mystify art making and make it accessible to anyone who desires to make art.
The Straight Line Wonder
“Once upon a time there were three straight lines. They were the best of friends.” So begins the next book I’m recommending, The Straight Line Wonder by Mem Fox and pictures by Marc Rosenthal, which encourages both the art perceiver and the art maker. One of the three straight lines decides he doesn’t always want to be straight and, against the warnings of his friends, he begins to “jump in humps” and adds “twirling in whirls” “pointing his joints”, “creeping in heeps” and “springing in rings”.
This is all too much for his two straight line friends who abandon him until a famous movie producer discovers him and leads him down a path to stardom. What I love about this book is not only the message to be daring and follow your heart, even if if means losing friends, but also how it teaches students about different kinds of lines and gives them an opportunity to identify them in the illustrations.
And last, but certainly not least, The Museum – a collaboration between writer Susan Verde and the author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds who created the art featured in the story. The first three lines say it all. “When I see a work of art, something happens in my heart. I cannot stifle my reaction. My body just goes into action.” This little girl visiting an art museum proceeds to experience the art by creating poses and movements inspired by the various works which lead her through a plethora of emotions. The art work in this book is particularly noteworthy and shows so clearly how someone can respond to viewing art.
I think the first three lines and the last three lines are my favorite in the whole book. It ends, “The museum’s closed for the night, but I know that it’s alright. Its rhythm exists in all I see. The museum lives inside of me.” It brings tears to my eyes. Actually all four of these stories do, which is why I am recommending them. Those tears mean the Children’s books speak a truth that resonates with my inner artist and I hope they resonate with you and your students too.
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
The Straight Line Wonder by Mem Fox and pictures by Marc Rosenthal
The Museum story by Susan Verde and Art by Peter H. Reynolds
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.