Picture Books to Foster Art Appreciation in Children
The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola
Beloved children’s author Tomie dePaola writes about the first time he went to an art class as a child. Tommy loved to draw from a very young age, and he was excited to finally take a “real” art lesson until he found out that his art class only used eight crayon colors and that he was only allowed one piece of paper! This picture book explores the themes of individuality and how to stay true to one’s self despite outside limitations to the creative process. Appropriate for ages 4 and up.
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
This is a classic picture book to introduce young children to the concepts of color theory. Three white mice mix colors from three jars of paint --red, yellow, and blue--to make a painting while the cat is asleep. The illustrations are charmingly simple and the book effectively shows how mixing two colors can make a brand new color. Appropriate for ages 2 and up.
Faces for Baby by Yana Peel
This board book utilizes works from famous modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, to introduce very young children to the complexities of the human face. Each page features a different face, and the book will help to develop a child’s ability to read facial expressions and understand human emotions. The last page is a mirror so your child can study his or her own face too. Peel is also the author of similar board book, called Art for Baby. Appropriate for ages baby and up.
Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka
A young boy is searching for his friend named Art. He asks a lady if she has seen him, and she points him in the direction of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In the museum, the boy asks many people “Have you seen Art?” and receives many answers, but not the one he is looking for. Works by famous artists that are on display in the MOMA are featured throughout the text. This book has a fun premise and the cartoonish illustrations contrast well with the priceless works of art. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle
This picture book was inspired by the famous art piece “Blue Horse I” by the German artist Franz Marc, who was criticized during his time period for his unconventional uses of color. Carle plays with the idea of “the wrong color” throughout the book, with his illustrations of animals like a red crocodile, a yellow cow, and a green lion. Children will love pointing out why the illustrations are “wrong” and will not realize that they are being taught how art can deviate from and bend the rules of reality. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.
Young Frank, Architect by Frank Viva
Young Frank lives with his grandfather, Old Frank, in New York City. They both consider themselves architects, but Old Frank frowns upon Young Frank’s unconventional style. They take a trip to the MOMA where they see unconventional architectural works by artists such as Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright, and Old Frank opens his mind to a new way of looking at art. This picture book will teach children that it is OK to think outside the box and may even inspire some very interesting building-block projects. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.
Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent De Brunhoff
The iconic children’s book character Babar decides to open up an art museum, so he can display all the art he has collected during his travels over the years. The illustrations throughout the book feature famous works of art, such as the Mona Lisa, the Birth of Venus, and The Scream, with familiar elephant faces in lieu of human ones. Learning about art becomes more accessible with Babar leading the way, and parents should get a kick out of the pictures just as much as their little ones. Appropriate for ages 2 and up.
This wordless picture book depicts a balloon’s travels around Washington City while its owner tours the National Gallery of Art with her family. Works of art that are on display in the gallery are featured alongside historical Washington, DC landmarks. The illustrations are colorful in the forefront of each panel with contrasting black-and-white backgrounds, which should capture younger readers’ eyes. Further, famous faces from history, such as former presidents, are hidden throughout the text, which should make for a fun treasure hunt with older children. Appropriate for ages 5 and up.
This is a beautifully told story about the author as a boy visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his grandmother for a school assignment. Eric’s grandmother lived in Harlem, and when she traveled the 20 blocks to Manhattan to visit the museum, she did not feel like she belonged. This all changes when she recognizes the face of Juan de Pareja in a portrait painted by Diego Valezquez, because she learned about Pareja as a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico. Eric was amazed to see a person who looked like him in a painting, and this moment sparked him to start creating. In the author’s note, Eric states that he believes he is “an artist today because of that painting.” This book powerfully depicts the power of art to cross cultural boundaries. Appropriate for ages 4 and up.
The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale by Steven Guarnaccia
This fractured fairy tale is a fun twist on the traditional story of the Three Little Pigs. The three little pigs’ houses are modeled after the designs of three famous architects: Frank Gehry, Phillip Johnson, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The houses themselves are furnished with unusual pieces created by famous interior designers. The story itself is quite simple, which allows for the clever illustrations to shine through. Guarnaccia is also the author of Cinderella: A Fashionable Tale, which uses the same fairy tale plot device, only this time showcasing iconic haute couture fashion. Appropriate for ages 5 and up.
The Art Book for Children by Amanda Renshaw
This book is the kid’s version of The Art Book; it explores the works of 30 artists in a simple and clear format that children will relate to. Photographers, sculptors, and painters from the medieval to the modern art periods are included. Many sections feature a conversation- sparking question, such as this about the Mona Lisa: Why do you think this picture was so important to Leonardo? This book is great for encouraging early interaction with art and will hopefully foster a lifelong artistic appreciation. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.