March 10 – It’s National Women’s History Month

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 About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the accomplishments of women in the past who have broken barriers and forged paths for today’s women and who still inspire the leaders of tomorrow. To honor women this month, learn more about the influential woman in your own field or in areas you enjoy as hobbies and teach your children about the women who made incredible contributions to the world long ago and those who are changing the way we live today.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Written by Jeanne Walker Harvey | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

 

As a child, Maya Lin loved playing and interacting with nature near her home. She and her brother liked to run over what Maya had named “the Lizard’s Back”—a hill behind her house—and into the woods. Sometimes Maya went into the woods alone and “sat as still as a statue, hoping to tame rabbits, raccoons, chipmunks, and squirrels.” She liked to play chess with her brother and build towns from scraps of paper, boxes, books, and other things she found around the house.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya’s “parents had fled China at a time when people were told what to be and how to think.” They did not want the same for their children and always encouraged Maya to be and think what she wanted. Maya grew up surrounded by art. Her father worked with clay, and her mother was a poet. Maya also liked to make things with her hands. The beautiful library where she went to college inspired Maya to become an architect.

To learn about different buildings, Maya traveled all over the world. When she was only a senior in college, “Maya entered a contest to design a memorial to honor soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.” The contest stated two rules: the memorial had to fit in with a park-like setting, and it had to include the 58,000 names of the soldiers who had died in the war. These rules resonated with Maya. She “believed that a name brings back all the memories of a person, more than a photo of a moment in time.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya visited the site where the memorial would be built. As she looked at the gently rolling hill, she envisioned a simple cut in the earth that would support a polished wall covered in names. Not only would the wall reflect those who died, but also those who came to visit and the surrounding nature. At school, Maya worked with mashed potatoes and then with clay to help her create the perfect monument. When she had finished her drawings and plans, she wrote an essay to accompany them. She wrote that her monument would be “a place to be experienced by walking down, then up past names that seemed to go on forever.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

More than 1,400 artists and architects—many of them famous—entered the contest. The designs were hung in an airplane hangar anonymously for judging. Finally, the day came for the announcement of the winner. When the judges called out Maya Lin’s name and she came forward, they were surprised to find that she was so young. Maya was excited to have won, but then some people began to object to her design. Some said her “design looked like a bat, a boomerang, a black gash of shame.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maya-lin-artist-architect-of-light-and-lines-library

Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya was hurt by these comments, but she defended her design and, finally, it was approved. Maya worked with the architects and engineers who excavated the land and built the wall. As each granite panel was polished, engraved with the soldiers’ names, and set in place, Maya looked on. The memorial opened on Veterans Day in 1982. Thousands of people came to see it and to find the names of loved ones they had lost. As Maya approached the wall, “she searched for the name of the father of a friend. When she touched the name, she cried, just as she knew others would.” Every day since then visitors come to the wall to remember.

Maya Lin has gone on to design many more works of art and architecture that can be seen inside and outside. Each piece has a name and a particular vision. Maya wants people to interact with her art—to touch it; read, walk, or sit near it; or think about it. After each piece is finished, Maya thinks about her next work and how she can inspire the people who will see it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maya-lin-artist-architect-of-light-and-lines-Vietnam-War-Memorial

Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

An Author’s Note about Maya Lin and the Vietnam War Memorial follows the text.

Jeanne Walker Harvey has written an inspiring biography of Maya Lin that reveals not only her creativity but the importance of creative freedom for children. Lin’s confidence that led her to enter the contest and then defend her winning design will encourage readers to pursue their dreams. Harvey’s lyrical storytelling reflects Maya Lin’s quiet, introspective nature, the influences that nurtured her creative spirit, and her dedication to inviting others to be part of her art.

Dow Phumiruk’s graceful, soft-hued illustrations allow children to follow Maya Lin as she grows from a girl discovering nature, constructing cardboard cities, and learning the arts from her parents to a young woman who draws inspiration from the world’s buildings and relies on her own sensitivity to guide her. Back-to-back pages of the landscape of Vietnam and the site of the memorial connect the two places for children’s better understanding. Phumiruk’s depictions of the Vietnam War Memorial also give children an excellent view of this moving monument. Her images of Lin’s other architectural work will entice young readers to learn more about her and to explore where each of these pieces can be found.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt & Company Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1250112491

Discover more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books on her website!

Learn more about Dow Phumiruk, her art, and her books on her website!

National Women’s History Month Activity

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maya-lin-coloring-page

Maya Lin Coloring Page

Maya Lin’s accomplishments are inspirational for all children! Here’s a printable coloring page that you can personalize and hang in your room or locker to remind you that you can reach your goals too!

Maya Lin Coloring Page

Picture Book Review

August 2 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! This month we celebrate art created in America. The unique history, landscape, population, and cultural influences of the United States fosters artwork that is distinctively American. This month gives us the opportunity to explore pieces dating back to the founding of our country as well as the paintings, sculpture, crafts, pottery, and other arts being created today. Take the time to visit museums, galleries, arts and craft shows, and theaters to discover old favorites and new inspiration.

Seen Art?

Written by Jon Scieszka | Illustrated by Lane Smith

 

A little boy has arranged to meet his friend Art at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street in New York City. When he arrives, however, Art isn’t there. The boy asks a woman nearby, “‘Have you seen Art?’” The lady points him in the direction of a beautiful new building further down the street. When he gets there, the boy doesn’t see Art, but he does meet an official-looking gentleman. “‘You seen Art?’” the boy inquires.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2005, text copyright Jon Scieszka, 2005. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

“‘MoMA?” the man asks. The boy thinks, didn’t the lady ask the same thing? Figuring it’s some kind of code word, he answers, “‘Yes.’” Great news! The building is just opening, the man tells him. After giving another woman the code word, the boy is led upstairs. She stops in front of a painting with blue swirls, writhing trees, and a moon glowing over a quiet village. “‘Can’t you just feel the restlessness? The color? The emotion?’” The boy can feel it, but he’s more interested in finding Art.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2005, text copyright Jon Scieszka, 2005. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

A little man standing nearby seems to know where to go, and he leads the boy through a room filled with more paintings and sculpture. The man stops in front of a painting. “‘Look at that red! Look at that open box of crayons inviting us in. The grandfather clock? It has no hands. Time is suspended.’” The boy sees all this too. But, really, what he wants to know is—“‘is Art here?’”

A little girl across the room knows what he means. She can show him art. She takes him past a fur-covered teacup and spoon to a painting of an eye. But this is no ordinary eye. Instead of blue, brown, or green, this eye is clouds. “‘Your dream can be what is real,’” she explains. They see another painting with a melting clock in which time is messed up too, but it’s still not Art.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2005, text copyright Jon Scieszka, 2005. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Suddenly, a painter hugs the boy for his astute observation. He asks, is art “‘trying to capture dreams? Or is it making images everyone can recognize?’” Next, a lady shows the boy an alarming painting of a woman with whom she identifies, and a baby points out a picture of a brown “‘moo moo’” cow. It seems that in every corner there is another person expounding on a painting in front of them: the shapes, the mystery!, the composition, the color, the atmosphere.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2005, text copyright Jon Scieszka, 2005. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

But each time the boy answers, “‘Not exactly the Art I was looking for.’” Perhaps, he is interested in the Bell-47D1 helicopter hanging from the ceiling. Is it art? The boy strides past more pieces; they are puzzling, personal, playful, provocative and powerful. Art is not just paintings, he is told. Finally! They seem to be getting it. He begins to ask one more time about his friend, but he’s shown more photographs, sculpture, objects, and films.

The boy decides he needs to find Art on his own. He discovers a majestic painting as long as two rooms, a slippy-slidey chair, images of soup cans that make him hungry…the café…and sculptures of a family and a goat. Soon itvs time to leave. Back on the sidewalk and feeling dejected, the boy thinks he’ll never find his friend. “‘Hello, again,’” he hears. It’s the lady he met that morning. “‘Did you find art?’” she asks.

The boy is about to say no, but he remembers everything he has seen. “‘Yes,’” he answers. And when he finds Art waiting for him, the two go through MoMA again.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2005, text copyright Jon Scieszka, 2005. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Notes on each piece along with thumbnail images follow the text.

With clever word play, a humorous nod to the juxtaposed ideas “I know what I like/I like what I know,” and a wink at the world of art criticism, Jon Scieszka takes readers on a tour of the art collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The simple misunderstanding of the word Art in the story introduces children to the nature of interpretation and the variety of forms it can take. Through the many people the little boy meets, Scieszka presents a fabulous opportunity for adults and children to talk about opinions and how each person can have their own while accepting those of others. Scieszka’s rich language is as enticing as the art presented and gives kids and adults a vast vocabulary to use in talking about what art—and life—has to offer.

Lane Smith’s simple line-drawn and abstract figures are the perfect tour guides to the reproductions of famous paintings, sculpture, installations, and other art found at MoMA. Printed in full, vibrant color, the artwork dazzles, drawing readers in to stop and explore each image. An excellent survey of classic and modern pieces will delight and fascinate kids.

For art lovers and those just discovering the world of creativity, Seen Art? is an absorbing book that will entice both children and adults to learn more about art. The book would be a fun and engaging addition to school art programs or units as well as for home libraries.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2005 |ISBN 978-0670059867

Discover more about about Jon Scieszka, his books, and other fun stuff on his website.

View a gallery of book illustration and other artwork by Lane Smith on his website.

American Artists Appreciation Month Activity

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Rainbow Crayon Art

 

With this cool project you can create an art piece that’s as colorful as a rainbow and as unique as you are! Adult help is needed for children.

Supplies

  • Box of 24 crayons
  • White foam board or thick poster board, 8 inches by 17 inches
  • A small piece of corrugated cardboard, about 5 inches by 5 inches (a piece of the foam board can also be used for this step)
  • A small piece of poster board, about 5 inches by 5 inches
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife (optional)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hair dryer
  • Old sheets or towels, newspapers, a large box, or a trifold display board

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Directions

  1. Remove the various red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, and violet hued crayons from the box of crayons
  2. Strip the paper from the crayons by slicing the paper with the x-acto knife, or removing it by hand
  3. Line them up in order at the top of the white foam board
  4. With the hot glue gun, attach the crayons to the board with their tips facing down 
  5. Cut an umbrella or other shape of your choice from the poster board
  6. Trace the umbrella or other shape onto the corrugated cardboard or a piece of the foam board and cut out
  7. Glue the umbrella or other shape to the foam board, about 4 ½ inches below the crayons, let dry
  8. Set up a space where you can melt the crayons. The wax will fly, so protect the floor and walls by placing the art piece in a large box or by hanging newspapers, old sheets or towels on the walls and placing newspapers on the floor. A trifold display board and newspapers works well.
  9. Stand the art piece upright with the crayons at the top
  10. With the hot setting of the hair dryer, blow air at the crayons until they start to melt
  11. Move the hair dryer gently back and forth across the line of crayons from a distance of about 6 to 12 inches away. The closer you are to the crayons, the more they will splatter.
  12. The crayons will begin to melt and drip downward
  13. You can experiment with aiming the hair dryer straight on or at an angle to mix colors
  14. Wax that drips onto the umbrella or other shape can be chipped off after it dries or wiped off to create a “watercolor” effect on the shape
  15. Once the hair dryer is turned off, the wax cools and dries quickly
  16. Hang or display your art!

Picture Book Review

May 11 – It’s National Photography Month

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About the Holiday

We all know what joy photography brings. Whether you’re looking at professional fine art photos in a gallery or your own vacation pics, those film and digital images can make you see the world in a different way or just as you remember it. The oldest surviving photograph of nature dates back to 1827, when it took days for film to develop properly. Of course, today’s smart phones have changed forever the way we take photos, but the fun of capturing a moment in time will never go out of style.

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

 

In a marvelously conceived and unique book, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph tells the story of how the iconic photograph Harlem, 1958 came together. Through a series of poems, Roxane Orgill reveals the action when fifty-seven jazz musicians posed for Art Kane on an August afternoon in front of an ‘absolutely typical brownstone.’ Over the space of a day, Kane borrowed a camera, blocked off the street, and worked with the musicians who answered the call that went out to the local musicians’ union, recording studios, composers, nightclub owners, and others inviting “all jazz musicians: a photo shoot, no instruments required.”

The day’s beginning is captured in Early: Art Kane, photographer. Art Kane stands in the middle of the deserted street, wondering if his idea to capture The Golden Age of Jazz will become reality: “nobody here yet / it’s only nine / look right / where they come from the train / look left / where they exit a taxi…what if only four come / or five / ‘The Golden Age of Jazz’ / with five guys… / a crazy request / what if nobody shows… / a group from the train / Lester Young cigarette dangling / that funny squashed hat / man with an umbrella rolled tight… / guy in a striped tie / it’s happening.”

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Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

As the musicians begin to arrive, they talk and laugh among themselves, not listening to Art Kane as he tries to organize them into Some Kind of Formation. But Kane isn’t the only one with a camera today. In So Glad: Milt “Fump” Hinton, bassist and amateur photographer, Hinton is awed by the talent around him and “Glad I brought my Leica / And the Canon 35 / My little Keystone eight-millimeter too / Gave it to Mona, my wife / ‘Honey, just aim and press the button’” There’s “Chubby, Oscar, Wilbur…” then “Here come the big dogs / Coleman Monk Dizzy Roy / And the beauteous Marian McP… / They’re all here / For some magazine / Me I’m snapping pictures / Lots and lots of pictures / To remember / Later / Forever / So glad”

There are boys, too, sitting on the curb, getting into mischief as Hat: Alfred, a boy reveals: “Nice wool felt / Two-inch snap / Brim / Count’s too beat / to give chase / When / Nelson nabs / His bonnet / I’m / On it quick / Down the block / ‘Hand it over, Nelson, before I—’ / Buff the felt / Set the snap / Brim / ‘Your hat, Count Basie.’”

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Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Even though The Invitation Said No Instruments, Rex Stewart, cornetist couldn’t help but bring his silver cornet. And once he saw it, Leroy couldn’t help but run up in his short pants and untied shoes to ask “‘Can I try?’ / Lips to mouthpiece / Nothing.” But Rex shows him how it’s done and all heads turn his way. “Leroy again / ‘Can I try?’ / Rex passed the cornet / ‘Make like you’re going to kiss a girl’ / Lips to mouthpiece / Squeak / (Leroy’s too young for girls) / Rex tucked his horn under his arm / The invitation said no instruments.”

Excitement mounts as everyone realizes She’s Here! Maxine Sullivan, singer who “snagged Your Hit Parade at twenty-six / ‘Loch Lomond’ put her on the high road… / got in with a good band / warbling on the radio / chantoosing in the clubs / all that was years ago” before she became a nurse and married and had a daughter. “but she’s here! / come to hang with the cats / reminding all us bass players / and pianists who kept time / on all her records, tours… / reminding us all / how much we miss her.”

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Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

People look out their windows at all the commotion as Eddie Locke strolls up and Thelonious Monk (late as usual) arrives in a taxi. Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, J. C. Heard and Gerry Mulligan make an unlikely quartet, and Willie “the Lion” Smith sits on the stoop holding onto his elephant-head cane. Finally, Art Kane calls out Some Kind of Formation, Please! “A plea so desperate / it’s melodic / shuffle / climb the stoop / fan   out   on   the   sidewalk / talk-laugh-roar / smoke-slap-turn / little by little / fifty-seven musicians form an upside-down T / underlined / by twelve boys / just happen to be sitting on the curb… / click / it has to be perfect / for Esquire / Dizzy sticks out his tongue.”

At last the copy of Esquire lands on newsstands, and Alfred pays for a copy with money he’s saved by missing “a month of matinees.” He thinks it was worth it, though, because “…jeez / I’m in a magazine.”

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Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

A fold-out page of the original photograph lets children and adults see the final product of the photo shoot. Children and adults will also have fun matching the portraits that accompany the poems to their real counterparts. Short biographies of each person in the photograph as well as an Author’s Note, an introduction, and further resources for study add to the comprehensive and loving treatment of its subject that Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph provides for readers.

For children (and adults) who love photography, jazz, biographies, history, and/or poetry, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is a marvelous choice for home libraries and is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Roxane Orgill recreates the syncopation of jazz and the exhilaration of the photo shoot in twenty poems that capture the sights, sounds, conversations, horseplay, and vibe of that special day that forever commemorated the Golden Age of Jazz. The smooth, cool lines of Orgill’s free verse poetry are a joy to read aloud. Full of personality, captivating details, history, and nostalgia, the poems reawaken the past for a new generation.

Working from the actual black-and-white photograph, Francis Vallejo vividly reimagines the scene on 126th Street as well-known and lesser-known jazz musicians came together to represent themselves and their art for Esquire magazine. Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations bring to life the surprise, camaraderie, and expressions of the men, women, and boys as they mingle, rest, and pass the time until the pose and lighting is right for the shot. As the book opens, readers get a bird’s-eye view of the street and quiet neighborhood, but as the musicians begin arriving the illustrations move in, allowing readers to rub shoulders with the greats of jazz.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

Learn more about Roxane Orgill and her books on her website!

National Photography Month Activity

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Spool Photo Holder

 

With this easy craft you can make a personalized photo holder for your favorite pictures of friends and family!

Supplies

  • Wooden spool with hole through the middle, top to bottom. (A spool without a hole also works if you make a hole in the top with a hammer and nail), 1 ½ -inch or larger, available at craft stores
  • Colorful twine or light-gauge yarn, 3 to 4 yards
  • Alternatively: you can buy a wooden spool of colorful twine at some discount stores
  • 3 pieces of light-gauge wire 12 to 15-inches long
  • Clay or play dough
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Fill hole in spool with clay or play dough, pushing it well in to provide a base for the wire
  2. Wrap the twine or yarn around the spool to desired thickness
  3. Glue down the end of the twine to keep it from unraveling
  4. With the needle-nose pliers, roll down one end of the wire to create a small coil
  5. Repeat with two other lengths of wire
  6. Cut the three wires to different lengths to provide room for all three photographs
  7. Fit the three wires into the center hole on the top of the spool
  8. Push the wires into the clay until they are held securely
  9. Clip photographs into the coils
  10. Display your pictures!

Picture Book Review

April 8 – Draw a Picture of a Bird Day

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About the Holiday

With the onset of spring, our feathered friends are busy building nests and hatching little ones. The return of birds to backyards, parks, and beaches as well as the increased activity gives budding nature artists the perfect opportunity to try their hand at sketching these favorite colorful creatures. Whether you prefer to make detailed renderings or simple line drawings, today’s holiday should inspire you to grab your pencil or paints and create!

Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso

First Concepts with Fine Artists | Illustrations by Pablo Picasso

 

Pablo Picasso, “one of the most famous artists who ever lived,” was a prodigy who loved to draw animals of all kinds. Perhaps best known for his abstract portraits and his colorful canvases, Picasso also created line drawings, many of which were “inspired by poems about animals written by his friend Guillaume Apollinaire, a famous French poet.” The illustrations in Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso come from Picasso’s notebooks and, combined, make a wonderfully conceived concept book for little ones.

Opening to the first page, readers meet three birds, one perhaps a little more steady on its feet than the others. Four more birds follow on the next page, a few gamely trying to stand on one leg like the regal flamingos behind them. From the tropical home of the flamingo, readers next travel to a snowy clime, where “penguins are birds who waddle over snow.”

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All artworks by Pablo Picasso © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2017. © 2017 Phaidon Press

“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” Don’t snooze! The rooster wants you to know that he is a bird too! Of course, “some birds fly,” and many insects have wings too. Flies fly and wasps fly. How about grasshoppers? They prefer to hop! Who else likes to hop? “Bunnies hop…especially to get away from hungry foxes. Does [the] fox look hungry to you?”

Some animals seem to be hungry all the time—like the squirrel on the next page (you know how squirrels are!) and the camel, whose “humps are small. When she eats, her humps will grow!” Do you like dogs? “This little dog has no humps—he’s long like a hot dog!” His friend is a big dog who can do tricks. Horses can learn tricks too and perform for people. They can even rear up and stand on two legs! You know who can’t stand on two legs? Right! Fish! “They swim! Turtles swim too.”

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All artworks by Pablo Picasso © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2017. © 2017 Phaidon Press

But we were talking about birds, weren’t we? There are some birds that are like fish. The pelican is a bird who likes to swim—of course, it likes to eat fish too. The ostrich is too big for either flying or swimming, but it can run—really fast! There are so many kinds of birds, aren’t there? Peacocks have long, colorful tail feathers, and owls like the nighttime. Yes, there are so many birds, “beautiful birds.”

The First Concepts with Fine Artists series by Phaidon Press is one of my favorite new collections for babies, toddlers, and even older kids. As an art lover, I’m impressed with the variety of styles and artists introduced to young children who will be attracted to the colors, shapes, and movement in the chosen artwork. As someone who works with words, I love the way the art is tied together with engaging and conversational text.

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All artworks by Pablo Picasso © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2017. © 2017 Phaidon Press

Birds and Other Animals with Pablo Picasso will enchant little ones with whimsical line drawings of animals that embody charming poise and personality. Each page invites readers to create stories of their own about the characters they see, and both children and adults will enjoy running a finger along the line to discover that most of the animals in this sturdy board book are created from one smooth stroke. Along the way, kids learn facts about certain animals, discover how shapes work together, and find objects to count. 

Line it all up and Birds and Other Animals with Pablo Picasso rewards readers with sophisticated fun. The book would make a lovely new baby gift or a delightful addition to young children’s home libraries.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0714874180

Draw a Picture of a Bird Day Activity

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Flight of Fancy Bird Drawings

 

Birds come in all shapes and sizes—which kind of bird is your favorite? With these two printables you can learn how to draw a bird and color a pair of birds who are busy collecting flowers!

Learn to Draw a Bird | Birds Carrying Flowers

Picture Book Review

January 27 – It’s Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

January is a time for reflection and new beginnings. What better time to start thinking creatively and finding your inner artist, scientist, inventor, thinker? Go ahead and do the thing you’ve always wanted to do!

Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt

Written by Patricia C. McKissack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

In this story told through poems, a little girl begins telling of her life, starting with a recitation on Gee’s Bend Women: “Gee’s Bend women are / Mothers and Grandmothers / Wives / Sisters and Daughters / Widows.” They are every kind of woman you know, doing every type of work and activity. “Gee’s Bend women are / Talented and Creative / Capable / Makers of artful quilts / Unmatched. / Gee’s Bend women are / Relatives / Neighbors / Friends— / Same as me.”

In Who Would Have Thought, the girl muses on how perceptions change. “For as long as anyone can remember,” she says, the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama have created quilts that were slept under, sat on, and wrapped around the sick or cold. But now those same quilts are “…hanging on museum walls, / their makers famous….”

When she was just a tot “Baby Girl” reveals in Beneath the Quilting Frame, she played under the quilting frame, listening to her “mama, grandma, and great-gran / as they sewed, talked, sang, and laughed / above my tented playground.” She remembers the “steady fingers  /[that] pieced together colorful scraps of familiar cloth / into something / more lovely / than anything they had been before” as her mother sang her a lullaby.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Something Else, “Baby Girl” is growing too big to play beneath the frame. Her legs becoming longer and her mind full of “recipes for eleven kinds of jelly…how to get rid of mold…and the words to a hundred hymns and gospel songs” while she waits her turn at the frame. Finally, in Where to Start? her time comes. The girl asks her mama how to begin and she answers, “‘Look for the heart. / When you find the heart, / your work will leap to life… / strong, beautiful, and… / independent.’”

In Remembering, the girl thinks about how her mama has told her that “cloth has a memory.” As she chooses the cloth that will become her quilt she sees the life and the history in each. 

Nothing Wasted sees Grandma pulling apart a red-and-white gingham dress stitch by stitch to become a quilting square that the girl suddenly knows “will be the heart of my quilt.” In Puzzling the Pieces the girl and her grandma stand over the quilting frame fitting the squares together in the perfect way to tell the girl’s story. Her quilt comes together piece by piece to tell the history of Gee’s Bend in The River Island. The brown strips along three sides mirror the muddy waters surrounding her town. The fourth side is a green strip—“a symbol of the fields where my ancestors / worked cotton from can to can’t— / can see in the morning until / can’t see at night.” Lined up next to the green strip are six squares representing the small communities “where families with / the same name / are not kin by blood / but by plantation.”

Being Discovered is portrayed with “a large smoke-gray square”—the color of the Great Depression and the 15 minutes of fame Gee’s Bend garnered when discovered “by sociologists, historians, / educators, and journalists” who came and went, leaving Gee’s Bend “the way it had been / before being discovered.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Colors, the girl’s grandma explains the meanings and feelings behind each colored cloth. “Blue cools. / Red is loud and hard to control, / like fire and a gossiping tongue.” Green, orange, yellow, white, pink, and all the others have their own personalities. “Grandma says, / ‘Colors show how you / feel deep down inside.’”

In Pinky, the harrowing facts of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama frame the story of one marcher, Mr. Willie Quill who broke horses for the Alabama State Mounted Patrol and was saved from the Police attacks when one of the horses he’d trained knew his voice. In Dr. King Brings Hope, the little girl adds a “Patch of bright pink / to remember Pinky’s story. / Next to it I sew / a spotless white patch for the hope Dr. Martin Luther King / brought to the Bend” and goes on to tell how her grandma saw Dr. King at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and what it meant to her.

By and By follows the girl as she adds “golden thank-yous, for James Reeb,” a “bright blue piece of velvet for Viola Liuzzo,” and a “big plaid people circle of white, black, brown, yellow, and red for Reverend Dr. King, all “killed for believing in justice.”

In the 1960s, The Sewing Bee tells, Gee’s Bend quilters were once again discovered. There were buyers for the handmade quilts, but stipulations. The girl asks her grandma if she was part of the Bee, to which she replies, “‘Yes, / more money. Less freedom. I chose to stay free.’”

At last all of the patches are laid out and the time comes to stitch the girl’s quilt. Five women stand at the frame “all stitchin’ and pullin.’” They work “in a slow and steady rhythm” relaxing and enjoying being together until the quilt is finished. In Finished, the last stitch is sewn, and the thread bitten and knotted. The girl has hundreds of ideas for future quilts. “Quilts that are about me, / the place where I live, / and the people / who have been here for generations.”

Further poems unite the history of “Baby Girl,” her family, and neighbors, and an Author’s Note about quilting and the women of Gee’s Bend follow the text.

Patricia McKessack’s free verse poems capture the close relationships and camaraderie of the generations of women who join around the quilting frame to share and pass down their art and their heart. McKessack’s conversational verses, on page after page like the patches of a quilt, reveal the complexity of this handmade art form in the way intimate talks between friends unveil a life. Readers learn not only about the little girl and her own thoughts, but the history and influence of her immediate family, world events, inspirational figures, and deeply held beliefs that make her who she is and ties her to the other Gee’s Bend women.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s stunning acrylic paintings take readers inside the heart of the Gee’s Bend women, depicting the girl’s home, the table-sized quilting frame where the women collectively work, the plantations, the protests, and the changes that came but did not unravel the convictions, values, and love of the little girl’s family. Readers can almost hear the talking and singing of the Gee’s Bend women as they stitch their quilts, and the comforting, embracing environment is evident on every page. Cabrera’s portraits of the little girl, her mama, and her grandma are particularly moving. For What Changed, Cabrera depicts a yellow school bus appearing on the dirt road from the right hand corner of the page. In the side mirror a dot of a house comes into view, reminding readers that no matter how far these women are from home, Gee’s Bend is always with them.

Children—and adults—will find Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt inspirational and uplifting. This volume of poetry can be read at one sitting and delved into again and again, making it a wonderful choice for home libraries and a must for school, public, and other libraries.

Ages 5 – 12

Dragonfly Books, Random House, 2016 (paperback edition) | ISBN 978-0399549502

View a gallery  of fashion designs, dolls, and other handmade art work by Cozbi A. Cabrera on her website!

Creativity Month Activity

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Design a Quilt Coloring Pages

Quilts are so much more than pieces of material sewn together—they’re life stories! Here are two quilt coloring pages for you to design and color. What does each piece mean to you? As you color each section, write a sentence about an event or thought that is important to you.

Quilt Template 1 | Quilt Template 2

Picture Book Review

November 1 – Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

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About the Holiday

Originating in Mexico, but celebrated throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos commemorates the lives of deceased loved ones with music, food, parties, and activities the person enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos revolves around the belief that death is just a natural part of the life cycle, and the dead are awakened from their eternal rest to once more join their community for this special day.

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras

By Duncan Tonatiuh

 

José Guadalupe Posada was born in 1852 in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes. His older brother, a teacher, taught Lupe how to read and write, and seeing how well he drew, helped him enroll in art classes. When Lupe was 18, he went to work in a print shop where he learned lithography and engraving. During working hours Lupe created labels, invitations, flyers, and other documents.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

After work, he gathered with other artists and talked about the government. They didn’t like how their government officials ran things. Lupe’s boss, Don Trinidad Pedroza, at the print shop also published a newspaper, and he invited Lupe to create editorial drawings to be included in the paper. Lupe’s drawings were humorous, but also highlighted the officials’ bad traits. After the elections some of these politicians remained in power and were angry with Lupe and his boss. Lupe and Don Trinidad decided to move to the city of León.

In León Lupe opened his own print shop, he got married, and had a son. He became well known not only for his printing work but also for book and pamphlet illustrations. People began to call him Don Lupe as a sign of respect. “But in 1888 a terrible flood destroyed a large part of the city, including Don Lupe’s shop.” He and his family moved to Mexico City, where in time he was able to open another print shop.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

He worked with Antonio Vanegas, a writer, who published his stories on large sheets of paper called ‘broadsides.’ “The tales were about a wide range of topics, including scary creatures, fires, miracles, violent crimes, heroes, bandits, cockfights, and bullfights.” Don Lupe drew illustrations for many of these stories. Even people who couldn’t read began buying the broadsides because they were fascinated by Don Lupe’s art.

Every November first and second, during the Dia de Muertos celebrations venders sold special “pan de muerto (bread), cempasúchil (marigold flowers), alfeñiques (sugar skulls), and papel picado (paper cutouts). People bought these and other items to decorate the ofrendas (offerings) they made for their loved ones who had died.” Don Antonio and other editors published “literary Calaveras, which were “short rhyming poems that featured a skeleton and made jokes about him or her. People thought they were very funny. Soon Don Lupe began drawing illustrations for these poems.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

Over time Don Lupe began using the technique of etching, and his illustrations grew more complex. In his calaveras drawings Don Lupe interpreted and commented on what he saw not only on Dia de Muertos, but every day. For example, he watched families gather at loved ones’ graves with food, stories, and music then “drew skeletons dancing and partying. Was he saying that…El Dia de Muertos is not only a celebration of death but also a celebration of life? A day when the dead become alive?”

In another drawing a skeleton wears a large hat covered with lace, feathers, and flowers. This illustration accompanied a poem about a woman who wore expensive clothes and thought she was better than others and ignored them when they needed help. “Was Don Lupe saying that…no matter how fancy your clothes are on the outside, on the inside we are all the same? That we are all calaveras?

Don Lupe also commented on the ever increasing hustle and bustle of society, the Mexican Revolution of 1910, revolutionary leaders and government officials, and just common people and events. Perhaps the main idea Don Lupe was trying to communicate was that “calaveras are all around us. That we are all calaveras, whether we are rich or poor, famous or not.”

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

While many people loved and looked forward to Don Lupe’s artwork, they did not know the artist who drew them. It wasn’t until many years after his death in 1913 that “historians and artists such as Jean Charlot and Diego Rivera began to wonder who had drawn such wonderful images.” Today, we know Don Lupe by his last name—Posada—which is how he signed his work, and he and his work is still beloved around the world.

An extensive Author’s Note about El Dia de Muertos and Posada’s influence on other artists. A glossary, bibliography, art credits, and places where Posada’s work is displayed follow the text.

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Copyright Duncan Tonatiuh, courtesy of abramsbooks.com

In Funny Bones Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, Duncan Tonatiuh accomplishes many things. First, his book is a fascinating look at the life of the man who entertained and enlightened the world with his distinctive talent and ideas. Tonatiuh’s straightforward storytelling reveals the personal and historical events that influenced Posada from childhood through adulthood, clearly explaining and highlighting each concept for his young audience. Second, Tonatiuh provides readers with brief primers on the printing processes of lithography, engraving, and etching with step-by-step descriptions of these interesting art forms.

Third, his own vibrant and expressive stylized illustrations both contrast with and complement the depictions of Posada’s life and his calaveras drawings. On nearly every two-page spread readers experience this biography through Tonatiuh’s portrayals of Don Lupe, the townspeople, and others as well as through Posada’s actual broadsides and editorial drawings. The juxtapositions allow children to fully appreciate the meaning and humor behind these famous drawings that are still so popular and resonant today.

Ages 6 – 10

Harry N. Abrams, 2015 | ISBN 978-1419716478

View a gallery of Duncan Tonatiuh‘s artwork for children and adults on his website!

Dia de los Muertas (Day of the Dead) Activity

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Calaveras Coloring Page

 

With their intricate designs and vibrant hues, calaveras are a joy to color. Grab your entire set of markers, pencils, or crayons and design a masterpiece with this printable Calaveras Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review