The Line and the Dot: Children's Books Celebrating Visual Arts and Crafts

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

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Last Updated 06/13/08


Picture Books

(Click for fiction, ages 5-12, young adult fiction and nonfiction )

I Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beautmont. Illustrated by David Catrow. Harcourt, 2005 (0-15-202488-3) $16.00

Caught "paintin' pictures" all over the house, a little kid's mom yells "ya ain't a-gonna paint no more!" and puts the paints away on a high shelf. But an artist has to do what an artist has to do, and soon the crafty kid is painting sparkling spirals on his chest, a line of ants marching across his arm and a maniacally grinning face on his hand. A black and white coloring-book world becomes increasingly colorful and messily gorgeous; even the bathtub he winds up in at the end sends fabulous splotches of color dripping across the floor. Kids will enjoy a bit of silly body humor--"But I'm such a nut, gonna paint my--" "What?!" screams his mom--as well as the easy rhyming text, which follows the tune of "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More." (4-8)

The Day It Rained Hearts (Previously published as Four Valentines in a Rainstorm) written and illustrated by Felicia Bond. 1983; HarperCollins, 2004 (0-06-054442-2) $6.99 board book

Far less mushy than you might expect from the title, this Valentine's Day favorite embraces thoughtfulness and creativity. When it begins to rain hearts one day, a little girl catches several and turns them into valentines, each one perfectly designed for its intended recipient: A dog receives a new collar made of hearts; a mouse gets a valentine full of holes, like a swiss cheese. Bond's illustrations use shaded backgrounds, giving a richer, warmer tone to her usual whimsical watercolors, The final pictures, in which we see how happily each valentine is received, are especially appealing. (2-6)

Pascual's Magic Pictures by Amy Glaser Gage. Illustrated by Karen Dugan. Carolrhoda, 1996 (0-87614-877-1) OP

Pascual longs to be able to photograph the howler monkeys that leap in the branches near his home in Guatemala. When a tourist shows him her inexpensive disposable camera, Pascual realizes that his dream might be possible, and he saves up his money to buy a camera just like hers. But when he ventures into the forest to take his pictures, everything goes wrong and it seems like his dream is ruined. Or is it? The unexpected and marvelously satisfying ending of this likeable story makes it a perfect choice for storytimes. Patterns from Guatemalan cloth frame the illustrations, which are sometimes lackluster, but create some lovely images of the forest and its inhabitants. (5-8)

Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer. Harcourt, 2005 (0-15-202501-4) $16

From waking up a piece of paper by folding it into a Rooster, to "hearing papery whisper-thumps" as he lies in bed at night, a little boy spends a day creating a fantastic world of origami animals and shapes. This interconnected collection of short poems--some in recognizable forms like haiku, others free-form--shows that words, like origami paper, can create something more solid and alive than the sum of their parts. In the painted illustrations, inventive posing gives expression to the seemingly faceless origami animals, while still keeping them utterly plausible as pieces of folded paper. * (3 & up)

The Trouble With Mister by Debra Keller. Illustrated by Shannon McNeill. Chronicle, 1995 (0-8118-0358-9) $13.95; (0-8118-2337-7) $6.95 pb

An enchanting tribute to the power of love and imagination, this is the story of a boy who wants a dog so badly, he manages to create one. Mister is a huge purple dog, with one green eye, one blue eye, and yellow socks on his paws to keep him warm in the winter. At first he only exists on the paper on which Alex drew him, folded over and over to be pocket sized--but then one fateful night, Mister comes to life! Alex is thrilled to be able to play with his pet, but when he wakes up in the morning, Mister is gone. Has he finally gotten a dog only to lose him?

Illustrated with wacky, slightly surreal pictures that have an almost 3-D effect--except for Mister, who is charmingly water-colored, even when alive--this is a funny, tender and wondrous story. Children may be confused about Mister's abrupt changes from paper to real to paper again, but it's the sort of confusion that leads to new thoughts and discoveries. (4-8)

The Paper Princess written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven. Dutton, 1994 (0-525-45231-1) $14.99; Puffin, 1998 (0-14-056424-1) $5.99 pb

A little girl draws and cuts out a princess with a dress like a forest, socks like starry skies and shoes like watermelons--but before she can give her hair, the paper princess is swept away by the wind. Floating around the town trying to get back to her little girl, the paper princess goes through all kinds of changes as another little girl accidentally draws green hair on her and then crumples her up in dismay, a jay rescues her and gives her human hair, and a little boy draws a picture on her back to make a present for his sister--who turns out to be the princess's own little girl. The princess happily tells the girl about her adventures, while the girl draws her an elephant to ride, and a banjo to play, and a brother to play with, and a sweater to wear when she went out flying--here, there, everywhere and home again.

Although promoted as a metaphorical story about children gaining independence, what struck me most about this book is the value it gives to art as a process of experimentation and creation. It is full of the artistic spirit of the very young, whose art is still free, unrestrained by conventional standards of what art should be. To the paper princess, everything has potential--cloud hair or blossom hair or candy-wrapper hair may not work out, but they're worth trying, and green hair is all right... she didn't have to crumple me! The jay too sees the possibilities in everything, even a crumpled wad of paper, and the little boy sees his art as a worthy gift. Only one foolish child, who has obviously forgotten that spirit, thinks the paper princess is ruined because of her green hair.

The pictures, aptly enough, are collage art: richly colored and textured, with a skillfully crafted seeming disregard for size and perspective that creates a comfortably imperfect childlike look. Multifaceted patterns bloom throughout each picture, glowing and dazzling; crowd scenes are full of lovingly drawn detail. Nothing is inappropriate: bits of newspaper are as much part of the collage as beautifully colored paper. Whether you see it as about art or parent-child relationships--and indeed, the spirit of creation is certainly involved in both-- The Paper Princess is a unique book. I don't know how much of its message children will take away with them but the joy of artistic expression dwells so strongly within both story and pictures, it can't help but make itself felt. Be sure to restock your art supplies before you read this one. (4 & up)

Good Wood Bear written and illustrated by Bijou Le Tord. 1985; Dell, 1995 (0-440-40974-8) OP

` The value of patient, loving craftsmanship is celebrated in this elegantly simple picture book about a bear building a birdhouse. Narrator Goose describes Bear's task step by step, showing the care that he puts into every part of his work; a duplicate of his plan at the end makes it possible to copy his example. The mood of the text is perfectly matched by the clean, crisp lines of the illustrations, black on white ink drawings in pastel frames. Just looking at this book refreshes the eyes. (3-8)

The Picture That Mom Drew written and illustrated by Kathy Mallat and Bruce McMillan. Walker, 1997 (0-8027-8617-0) $14.95

As you might guess from the title, this story uses a "House that Jack Built" format to describe the basic elements that go into a drawing. The story is narrated by two girls, who introduce readers to their mom and to the paper and colored pencils she will use; with just those tools, she forms lines, shapes, forms, shades, patterns and textures. The illustrations show parts of the work in progress as each new element is added to it; only at the end do we see that Mom was drawing a picture of her daughters. In a fun touch, the text is also illustrated so that the font of each descriptive word demonstrates what it means. This book isn't all that exciting as a read-aloud, but independent readers with an interest in art will find it instructive and perhaps inspiring. Notes on the different elements are included at the end. (5-10)

Drawing Lessons from a Bear written and illustrated by David McPhail. Little, Brown, 2000 (0-316-56345-5) $15.99

An artist tells a simple story of how he learned to love drawing as a youngster and grew up to be an artist--with a slight twist, because this artist is a bear. At the end of his story, he tells readers "You can't be a bear, you know, but you can be an artist. Are you an artist? Then say so." McPhail's carefully crafted yet very cuddly-looking bears fill this story with warmth. (3-6)

Museum ABC by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little, Brown, 2002 (0-316-07170-6) $16.95

This imaginative and exquisite alphabet book starts with the most basic of alphabet text, "A is for Apple," and shows that there are many different, beautiful ways to portray an apple: in a woodcut by Roy Lichtenstein, an oil painting by Paul Cezanne, a watercolor by Brian Connelly, and a greek painting on terracotta, for example. Each spread includes four beautifully reproduced details from artwork of varying cultures and periods; opposite the illustrations, a simple alphabet phrase is on an palate-clearing white background. It's simultaneously an art lesson, a history lesson and a great visual pleasure; I keep being entranced by "S is for Star," which shows stars brightly glowing in four thoroughly different ways, and by "E is for Eggs," which are variously in a nest, on a plate, cracked on the floor, and hatching out strange small children. (2 & up)

I Spy Two Eyes: Numbers in Art selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Greenwillow, 1993 (0-688-12640-5) $19.00; Mulberry, 1998 (0-688-16158-) $9.95 pb

An ordinary counting game becomes much more with this ingenious book, which reproduces works of art (from varied periods and styles) that have countable objects in them. Not only are the pictures attractive--and beautifully reproduced--but they are carefully and cleverly chosen, both to have interesting counting objects, and to draw the eye to parts of the artwork that might not otherwise be noticed. The first picture, accompanying the text "I spy one fly," points out an incongruous fly on the elaborate headdress of a fifteenth century woman. The sixteenth picture shows apples in a tree over a Madonna and child--and only after actually counting them did I realize that the sixteenth rosy apple is clutched in the baby's rosy hand. Noticing these details creates an increased feeling of intimacy with the artwork; by making the reader think about why the artists chose to include certain objects in a scene, it teaches art appreciation without ever saying a word about it. (3 & up)

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Greenwillow, 1992 (0-688-11679-5); Mulberry, 1996 (0-688-14703-5) $8.95

Although I loved the follow-ups to this book, I Spy Two Eyes, I Spy a Lion and I Spy a Freight Train, this is the first time I've seen the original. Surprisingly enough, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the others. As with the previous titles, the book reproduces (quite beautifully) 26 paintings and asks the reader to look for something in them, but this time rather than looking for a specific object, you look for something that begins with a letter of the alphabet. I found that actually having to think as I looked made the experience of looking less focused and intense than it was before; looking for a specific object somehow made me see the whole painting and wonder about what that object--sometimes something quite small and insignificant--was doing there. Perhaps some readers will have just the opposite experience. In any event, it's a gorgeous collection of art, including paintings with the kind of details that make a work seem child-friendly; children who especially enjoy "I Spy," or who liked the other books, should definitely give it a try. (3 & up)

I Spy a Lion: Animals in Art selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Greenwillow, 1994 (0-688-13230-8) $19.00

Like its predecessors, this fascinating picture book opens a door to an effortless, instinctual sort of art appreciation. Each beautifully reproduced painting includes some animal to look for: some very obvious, like the rabbit in Titian's "The Virgin with the Rabbit," others much more obscure, like the snake embroidered on the arm (and suggested in the headpiece) of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. It sounds like an exceptionally lame "Where's Waldo" clone, but I've found that simply examining each picture for a small detail has an astonishing effect: I start to wonder about why the painter put it there, to notice other details in the picture, to observe the distinctive style of the artist. This natural process of looking and wondering almost inevitably brings about a better understanding of what the artist was trying to accomplish. Perhaps more importantly, this format also beings art which may seem very foreign and remote to a level a child can relate to, shoeing them they can enjoy looking at many kinds of images. These books, which include paintings from numerous schools and eras, are a wonderful way to expand the capacity for aesthetic appreciation, for children and adults. * (3 & up)

I Spy a Freight Train: Transportation in Art selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Greenwillow, 1996 (0-688-14700-3) $19.00

Micklethwaits's fourth "I Spy" book again introduces the reader to beautifully reproduces paintings, both ancient and modern. This time the focus is on transportation; each painting includes some form of vehicle. But this is far from being a "Where's Waldo" sort of game: looking for the vehicle is just an opening to exploring the paintings, in all their fascinating detail. Great art has never been so accessible. * (4 & up)

More Than Meets the Eye by Bob Raczka. Millbrook, 2003 (0-7613-2797-5)$18.90; (0-7613-1994-8) $9.95 pb

Subtitled, "Seeing Art with All Five Sense," this book encourages readers to explore their sensual imaginations as they enjoy art: to taste the milk that pours from a jug painted by Jan Vermeer, smell the breath of a baby painted by Berthe Morisot and pat tortillas with "The Tortilla Maker" by Diego Rivera. The design of this book, with pastel backgrounds for the paintings, does not give them the sharp clarity found in Lucy Micklethwait's art books (see above), but the concept is certainly effective, for a receptive audience. (4 & up)

Billy's Picture written and illustrated by Margaret and H.A. Rey. 1948; Houghton Mifflin, 2004 (0-618-49420-0) $5.95 pb

Lesser known than Curious George and long out of print, this story is very welcome back. It starts with Billy the Bunny deciding to draw a picture, but as he starts to draw an animal, various friends drop by and decide the picture isn't quite right: Oliver the Owl decides to put in wings, Ronny the Rooster thinks it should have a comb, and of course Paul the Porcupine is sure it needs quills. Soon the picture is like no animal ever seen and Billy is pretty upset: "What I wanted to draw isn't a PUPPYGOOSE or a PORCUPHANT or whatever you call this silly picture. All I wanted to draw was a picture of myself!" And when he says that, all his friends realize that is what they wanted to do too. And so they do. With sharply defined, cheerful pictures in just four colors, and a story that will resonant with any occasionally frustrated young artist, this unsophisticated book has a basic, almost instinctual appeal, though the design makes the text feel a little rushed. (2-5)

the dot written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Candlewick, 2003 (0-7636-1961-2) $14.00

Perhaps more than any other genre, picture books are the upholders of a belief in innate creativity and the beauty of self-expression. the dot can proudly take its place besides classic titles such as Tomi dePaola's The Art Lesson: it is exceptional in its simplicity and the positive strength of its message.

Vashti is pretty ticked off by the end of art class, and her paper is completely empty. "I just can't draw!" she tells her teacher. When her teacher suggests, "just make a mark and see where it takes you," Vashti gives the paper a jab and makes a dot. She isn't expecting her teacher to ask her to sign it... or to frame it. "Hmmph" thinks Vashti to herself. "I can make a better dot than THAT"....

Drawn with Feiffer-like lines in ink and sepia-toned tea, with color mainly used as background to express mood and to highlight Vashti's growing portfolio of beautiful dots, this is a readily accessible story that seems to grow in loveliness with each new reading. I wish every art teacher understood so much about creative potential and the power of encouragement.

The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid by Diane Stanley. Illustrated by Dennis Nolan. Dial, 1994 (0-8037-1320-7)

Hung across from each other in a museum gallery are two portraits: a sweet, fresh-faced kitchen maid and a kind, gallant gentleman, both painted by Dutch maters. Unsurprisingly, over the years the two have fall in love, and despite criticism from the other paintings--"I can't imagine what he sees in her," comments the Grand Duchess with the large nose--the continue to gaze yearningly at each other, "trapped in their different worlds, frozen in time." Then disaster strikes: the kitchen maid is moved to another part of the museum. Luckily, a young student named Rusty has a special plan to give the two lovers a happy ending.

Reading this story took me happily back to the time when one of my favorite books was Don Freeman's Noman the Doorman; although they don't seem to have much in common other than a museum setting, both books bring a genuine spirit of warmth, humor and delight to the subject of art. The illustrations give radiance and expression the the characters in the paintings, painstakingly using the styles of different artists to create the look of a museum gallery. Only the most determined hater of mushy stuff could resist this. * (5-8)

Gizmo by Barry Varela. Illustrated by Ed Briant. Roaring Brook, 2007 (978-1-59643-115-7)$16.95

A text that evokes Dr. Seuss on speed and steroids and frantically busy illustrations collide joyfully for this offbeat book. Professor Ludwig von Glink wakes up one fine spring morning convinced "that a particular arrangement of pulleys, pendulums, sprockets, and gears suspended/by a network of wires would produce movement that never ended." It doesn't quite work out that way, but his failed perpetual-motion machine is so entertaining that the professor decides to expand on it, with "ramps, slides, buttons, lenses, switches, notches and nodes, nubins and niches," to the delight of his family and the folks who "came from far and near/to wonder and marvel and listen and point and gasp and laugh and cheer." When the extravagent gizmo that was once the von Glink's home comes to the attention of the City Buildings and Permits Inspector, it seems doomed, but the Director of the City Contemporary Art Museum saves the day, demanding the house be "declared a landmark, a treasure, a historic site-- anything to save it from the dynamite." And so, "after a close shave, the Professor's Gizmo was saved. Although any practical purpose it may have served remained opaque: It was a case of art for art's sake."

It's hard to give a true sense of the textual style of Gizmo without quoting the entire thing, because it's such a mad mix of constantly varying rhythms and rhyme schemes, with some rhymes coming fast, others taking what seems like forever to complete themselves; paradoxically, it flows wonderfully and is surprisingly easy to read aloud. The erratic movements of the text are complimented by bustling, jagged-edged line drawings that fill each page with active people, big machines, and the fascinating gizmo, with its springs and sprockets and endless moving parts. Boldly proclaiming the value of whimsy, creative experimentation and things that exist "simply to amuse," Gizmo easily justifies its own existance. (4 & up)


Fiction, ages 5-12

(No titles currently)


Intermediate and Young Adult (10 & up)

Simon Says By Elaine Marie Alphin. Harcourt Brace, 2002 (0-15-216355-7) $17.00

As I searched my mind for ways to approach a review of Simon Says, I found myself thinking of Jules Feiffer's The Man in the Ceiling. Superficially they're not anything alike, but in the same way that The Man in the Ceiling is an expression of what it means to be an artist, wrapped in a children's book, Simon Says is an expression of what it means to be an artist, wrapped in a YA problem novel. That could be taken as either damning with faint praise or praising with faint damn--and truly, I'm not entirely sure which way I mean it.

Simon Says is an ambitious and ultimately fascinating book. It opens with a prologue which frames it as a thriller or a mystery, and in a sense both of those judgments are correct, but the mystery and thrills of this book are definitely not typical.

"Simon Says" is the name given by sixteen-year-old Charles to the rules by which he lives his life. "Simon says... be like the other kids." "Simon says...keep your art separate." Charles is a painter, but he has never found anyone capable of appreciating his work. And so, though he continues to paint, he hides both his art and himself from everyone, showing them only the Charles they want to see. (If he had had a copy of The Man in the Ceiling as a child, perhaps this whole story would be different.)

As the book opens, Charles is entering a prestigious high school for the arts--not really to be taught, but to meet Graeme Brandt, a seventeen-year-old student who has already published a successful novel Charles thinks he'll find in Graeme the secret he's looking for, "someone who could show you how to have it both ways--how to be who you are, and how to paint what you have inside you and be able to show everybody." But the Graeme he finds is not at all who he expected, and their world views will collide with devastating results.

I would hate to have Simon Says ghettoized as a "gay teen" book, but one of its most intriguing themes is the parallels Alphin draws between art and sexual identity. Three important male characters in Simon Says have some sexual feelings towards other boys, but while one is as intrinsically and openly gay as he is intrinsically and openly an artist, another serves expediency in his relationships just as he does in his art, and the third experiences sexual feelings where he feels emotional connection. It's a much more honest depiction of the variety of human sexuality than usually found in young adult literature--perhaps in most literature--and it serves as a very apt metaphor for artistic expression, because hiding ones sexuality is just another form of playing the game.

Overall, I think Simon Says is powerful and wonderfully imagined--and yet I can't quite get past the writing. Charles' narrative uses constant parenthetical asides as a device to express his raging thoughts; it makes the book feel rushed, and diminished my belief in Charles' integrity and maturity as an artist--it's hard to picture him slowing down for long enough to paint. And then, it is very difficult to describe powerful works of art in a meaningful way, a problem Alphin hasn't completely overcome. The reader has to take an awful lot on faith, because the author seems to be struggling towards something she can't entirely express in words.

Still, both what it attempts and for what it achieves, this is a very rewarding book. (12 & up)

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart. Delacorte, 2006 (978-0-385-73282-6)$8.99 pb

Gretchen Yee has problems. She's the ordinary girl in a school full of calculated nonconformists; her art teacher hates her love of stylized, comic book art; her boyfriend dumped her; she's much too shy to talk to Titus, the boy she now likes; her parents are getting divorced and she thinks her dad is fooling around; and she can't even get started reading The Metamorphosis. Then something--an encounter with a gnome? a radioactive celery soda? a strangely grateful fly?--sends Gretchen off on her own metamorphosis, granting her idle wish to be a fly on the wall of the boy's locker room so she can finally figure out what the hell is going on with those alien creatures, boys.

Unable to leave, unable even to close her eyes when she wants to, Gretchen makes some unexpected discoveries about her own, suddenly rampant hormones, how it feels to see people as sex objects, and the surprising ways other kids see her, as well as becoming witness to sexism, bullies, homophobia, secrets--lots and lots of secrets--and the surprising vulnerability of boys.

There are so many interesting themes crammed into this book, but everything meshes so well, it mostly doesn't feel crowded or labored. Gretchen has a distinctive personality and voice, which especially comes through in small, funny details: in a list of action figures she owns, she notes, "Jar Jar Binks (someone gave him to me)." Her feelings about her art come through strongly in descriptions of her work and those of the other students in her class, culminating in a beautiful scene in which she gets to draw Titus: "I forget about the background part of the assignment and concentrate on the dark areas under his eyes, on his long thin nose, his soft lips with the bottom one jutting out as he concentrates, the shadows across his neck and the details of the silver key ring he wear around it. His lovely bony collarbone jutting out of his worn T-shirt." The voice only falters for me because it seems so weird that the only words any kid uses for body parts--and they use them a lot--are "gherkin" and "biscuits," especially when they're not shy about words like "faggot" and "fuck." I got pretty biscuited-out, pretty fast.

Still, this is such a wise and thoughtful and funny book. It makes so much sense to me as an adult--isn't this all the stuff parents are always trying to explain to their kids about other kids?--that I wish I could have the chance to read it from a teenager's perspective, just to see if it sinks in. Um... but if any gnomes or flies or makers of celery soda are reading this, I didn't mean that literally. (14 & up)

Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough. Roaring Brook, 2006 (1-59643-092-3) $16.95

It was interesting to read Drawing the Ocean right after This is What I Did: (see above)> because there are some general plot similarities. Both are about teens who are trying to fit in at a new school while burdened with guilt over feeling that they've betrayed someone they loved. The approach in each book is very different though, and could make for a provocative comparison study. In Drawing the Ocean, we have a more muted, elegantly told story, quite involving in its own way.

Sixteen year old Sadie is haunted: though her family doesn't talk about her twin brother Ollie, he's always there. In a nickname her father can no longer bear to use, in the fear that overtakes Sadie's mother whenever Sadie's in a car without her, in Sadie's compulsion to draw the ocean over and over. He even talks to Sadie, which is especially odd, since he's been dead for four years. "We were twelve," she remembers. "Part of me will be twelve forever. All of you will be."

Still, Sadie is determined that moving will be a new start for her. "I had spent long dreaming hours on how to fit in at my new school. How it would be a chance to start over and not be that weird girl anymore who was seen talking to herself sometimes and was way too into art. I had to make friends early and fast. And act normal. I was positive I could do it." And Sadie pulls it off; she hooks up with Lila, who knows all the social rules and is happy to share them in exchange for copying Sadie's homework. The most important rule: stay away from "Fryin' " Ryan, a deliberate nonconformist who's the school outcast.

When Sadie attracts the attention of football star Travis, her social acceptability seems complete. But somehow she is unable to avoid encounters with Ryan, discovering the vulnerability he hides behind his uncaring facade.

A quiet, observant narration by Sadie brings this book fascinating characterizations. Through her eyes we see that though Ryan is sometimes smug and a bit of a poseur, he is undoubtedly truly desperate about trying to survive high school with his sense of self intact. Even enigmatic cool girl Lila has intriguing depths and a need for true friendship. There are a few notes in the story that rang false to me, and the ending seemed to wrap things up too quickly, with Sadie's guilt over Ollie's death suddenly reaching a resolution while at the same time she makes a decision about herself and Ryan. It is in keeping with the generally low-key atmosphere of the story though, that the resolutions come without much drama, just with intelligence and feeling. (14 & up)


Nonfiction

Awesome Alphabets written and illustrated by Mike Artell. Good Year, 1999 (0-673-58647-2) OP

I hope that computers haven't made this book already obsolete, because it's a great idea. Dozens of pages show the unlimited potential of specialized alphabets: letters drawn to look like tools, like bones, even like clothes--a pair of pants and two socks make a wild capital K. Along with complete renderings of each alphabet, there are suggestions for creating new letters and other ideas about how words can be spiced up with imaginative drawing. Artell encourages readers to go beyond what he's done and design alphabets that fit their particular needs; kids who want to make their own books or design signs will find plenty of inspiration. And as the author points out, a handwritten font has what computer fonts completely lack: uniqueness. This is a terrific book to browse and a wonderful resource. (7 & up)

The Artist's Model written and illustrated by Allison Barrows. Carolrhoda, 1996 (0-87614-948-4) OP

This unusual non-fiction picture book tells the true story of a little girl who posed for the cover of a book jacket painted by her father. She describes the basic steps it takes to create a book cover, including her own part: posing for photographs which became the basis for the cover illustration.

The title of this book seems a little misleading, since it's really more about the creation of a book jacket than about being a model--and I'd guess that most artist's models have a far more strenuous job than posing for photographs. The story of how the cover is created is quite interesting though, especially since it's for a fantasy novel; it's intriguing to see how the bare bones of the photograph are augmented by the artist's imagination. Some of the actual photographs, included the final cover, are included and form a striking contrast to the overly cutesy, cartoonish illustrations. (6-8)

Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals written and illustrated by Ed Emberley. 1970; Little, Brown, 2006 (0-316-78979-8) $6.99 pb

Starting with basic shapes, letters, numbers and "things" (small dots, bird tracks, curly scribbles), this book shows the reader step by step how to draw a large number of different animals animals. A bird, for example, begins with a D, plus a triangle, plus an O, plus another triangle, and so on. I like the genuine look of the pictures: nothing is too-perfectly formed, and sometimes shapes aren't entirely filled in, as if a friend were just dashing off these examples for us. The results show that even simple drawings can have verve, particularly when you add a splash of creativity: a turtle, for example, can be turned into a turtle sleeping, a turtle dancing, or a turtle skating in the rain, holding an umbrella. (4-8)

Origami Safari by Steve and Megumi Biddle. Illustrated by Megumi Biddle. Tupelo, 1994 (0-688-13570-6) $8.95 pb

Although origami can be intimidating, the colorful wild animals demonstrated in this book are almost certain to captivate children and encourage them to give it a try. Step-by-step instructions and illustrations make the projects as easy as possible but younger children may still be frustrated without adult help. Twenty-four sheets of origami paper in appropriate "wildlife" colors are included, and the pictures of the completed animals suggest simple ideas for "habitats" that attractively show them off. (8 & up)

Artistic Trickery: the Tradition of Trompe L'Oeil Art by Michael Capek. Lerner, 1995 (0-8225-2064-8) OP

Readers who think all art is boring may well change their minds after reading this entertaining look at a very entertaining art form. Trompe L'Oeil art is a form of optical illusion which attempts to deceive the viewer with scenes so real it's hard to believe they're actually painted. The amazing effects artists can achieve is demonstrated in excellent reproductions of some famous works of Trompe L'Oeil: a sculpture of a sleeping tourist complete to the worn patch on his sneakers, a fifteenth century Madonna and Child looking at a fly that seems to have landed on the painting, and (my favorite) the perfectly flat and windowless side of the Whiskas building in Vienna, painted to look like a curved building covered with windows--with a cat in each one. Looking at the history of the art form, the subjects and "tricks" favored by the artists, and the artistic meanings that can make the pieces more than mere jokes, this book is both educational and fun. For a little extra enjoyment, little examples of Trompe L'Oeil are scattered throughout the pages--a paper clip, a food stain, and a bent over page that had me trying to bend it back. (9-14)

Draw Desert Animals written and illustrated by Doug DuBosque. eel, 1996 (0-939217-26-0) $8.95 pb

An unusually sophisticated approach to step-by-step drawing instructions, this book is excellent for young artists who have grown past mere copying and want serious advi&ce about how to draw. Each step is thoroughly described, with great attention to detail; following the instructions not only produces realistic drawings but demonstrates the relationship between process and result. DuBosque encourages young artists to save their work so they can see their progress, to take their time, and to keep a positive attitude about challenges and inevitable frustration. (8 & up)

What Do Illustrators Do? written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow. Clarion, 1999 (0-395-90230-4) $15.00; 2007 (978-0-618-87423-1) $6.95 pb

This companion to What Do Authors Do? is another fun and friendly look behind the scenes of the creation of a book. As two illustrators get to work on separate versions of "Jack and the Beanstalk," their pets, Scooter the dog and Leonard the cat, chat with each other and comment on the process, from the initial plan of what scenes to illustrate to the design of the cover. The helpful pets also demonstrate perspective, style, and--oops!--getting stuck in "the gutter." Christelow's informal watercolors and lively characters make both the business side and the creative side of illustrating understandable and entertaining. Readers may be surprised by how much thought and effort have to go into "just" drawing pictures, but will also inspired by seeing that "real" artists make rough sketches, traces, and mistakes. (5-8)

Picture Pie 2 written and illustrated by Ed Emberley. Little, Brown, 1996 (0-316-23458-3) $9.95 pb

This more complex sequel to Emberley's Picture Pie offers complete, step-by-step instructions on how to draw attractive animals, flowers, trains and signs using a stencil with a few basic shapes. This sort of art is rapidly being taken over by computers--in fact, this book was itself created entirely on a Macintosh--but it is still fun (and inexpensive) to do by hand. Impatient or easily frustrated young artists may want to start off with the simpler Picture Pie however. A cardboard stencil is included as part of the book, along with instruction on how to create a new one if it is lost or damaged. (6 & up)

Making Cards; Making Presents by Penny King. Carolrhoda, 1997 (1-57505-205-9; 1-57505-206-7) ) $12.95 each, library binding

These crafts book for kids are notable for having projects which are simple to make, yet produce really sharp looking results. Kids who are easily frustrated or intimidated by crafts will appreciate the tangible rewards they'll get for their efforts: heart-shaped candle holders, a snazzy decorative mirror, even an easy pop-up card. Readers can copy the projects as shown, but there's also room for creativity. Some projects will require buying materials and most call for some handiness with scissors. (7-12)

Art School written and illustrated by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom. Kingfisher, 1996 (0-7534-5000-3) OP

There are many books for children with instructions for fun art projects, but this one, promoted as "your very own art school in a book," aims for a lot more: its goal is to start the reader on the path to thinking, feeling and working as an artist. An amiable watercolor "Mick" is our guide through various projects and experiments designed both to build up specific skills and to reward creativity: an experiment in drawing textures reminds us that "how something feels is important when you are drawing it"; a mail art project can be delightfully startling way to break through conventional thinking about where art belongs. Appealingly designed, with easy to read text and colorful, friendly illustrations, this is a terrific resource for kids at almost any stage of artistic development. (6-12)

I Can Draw That!: Easy Animals and Monsters written and illustrated by Robert Pierce. Grosset & Dunlap, 1997 (0-448-41600-X) OP

I was always frustrated by "draw the animal" activities as a child, because they seemed to jump from a few circle to a rabbit with almost no explanation of what happened in between. This step-by-step manual is a considerable improvement, especially because almost nothing you've drawn has mysteriously disappeared from the final picture. (I really hated that!) Each object starts with very basic shapes, added one by one; the text describes what each shape represents in the picture, so you know what you're doing. The results are effective, cartoon-style animals and monsters; this is a good choice for kids who are intimidated by art and need the reassurance of immediate results. Six magic markers and a rainbow colored sketchbook are included. (5-8)

Oodles to Do With Loo-Loo and Boo written and illustrated by Dennis Roche. Houghton Mifflin, 2001 (0-618-15423-X) $9.95 pb

Subtitled "the Collected Art Adventures," this spiral-bound book combines two previous titles. Loo-Loo Boo, and Art You Can Do is a very child-friendly instruction manual, in which a girl named Loo-Loo and her talking dog Boo explain how to create various kinds of art, including classic projects like potato prints and some more unusual suggestions like sculptures made from boxes, tubes and cans. The text is easy to follow and includes plenty of silly jokes as well as all the essential information; the bold, irregularly-shaped, child-like illustrations encourage readers to do their own thing, rather than copying someone else's examples. Art Around the World: Loo-Loo, Boo, and More Art You Can Do continues the creativity, with art projects inspired by different countries: Burial Masks from Peru, Mosaics from Italy and Rainsticks from Togo, among many others. This book can't be beat for bringing interest and fun to self-paced art instruction.

Funny Papers: Behind the Scenes of the Comics by Elaine Scott. Photographs by Margaret Miller. Morrow, 1993 (0-688-11575-6) OP

Children (or adults) attracted to Funny Papers because of its cover are in for a disappointment: although it shows "Spiderman" and two children enjoying some comic books, the subject of the book is actually the history and production of newspaper comics, with comic books only featured in one short chapter. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not likely to make up for this initial disappointment. Although it contains a fair amount of interesting information--I always wondered why the "Blondie" strip wasn't named after Dagwood-- Funny Papers is written in a very simplistic, patronizing style, with much tedious analysis of why comics are funny. (Could anything be less funny than that?) Overall I can't recommend it, except possibly to children's librarians: given the popularity of the topic and the fairly comprehensive coverage (explaining the origins of the comic strip form, the writing and drawing process, and the technical aspects of production), the book does have strong potential as a resource for school reports.

Recipes for Art and Craft Materials by Helen Roney Sattler. 1973; Beech Tree, 1994 (0-688-13199-9) $4.95

No one who spends time with children should be without this exceptionally useful reference work, which includes recipes for just about every craft need: from pastes and glues, modeling clay and dough, and papier-mache, to more exotic items like fireplace log solution, colorful burning pinecones and newspaper clipping preservative. Each item has a simple, easy to use layout, describing what you will need for the recipe, how to make it, and how to use it when it's done. The thorough table-of-contents and an index (done in cookbook fashion) make the book even easier to use. Only children experienced in working with potentially dangerous materials should use this book unsupervised; it is primarily written for an adult audience. * (10 & up)

Look What You Can Make With Boxes edited by Lorianne Siomades. Photographed by Hank Schneider. Boyds Mill, 1998 (1-56397-704-4) $5.95 pb

Having recently become interested in frugal lifestyles, I was intrigued by this collection of simple craft products, which turn everyday boxes into useful and fun items. There are decorative shadow boxes to show off small treasures, usable bookends, scrapbooks, and my favorite, big "wacky feet" to wear. Many of the projects are toys; parents whose kids don't enjoy crafts might want to try some of these themselves, for inexpensive toy cars, building cards, and doll furniture. A user-friendly design includes step-by-step instructions and a highlighted list of necessary equipment, as well as photographs of the completed projects. (5-12)

Traditional Crafts from Native North America by Florence Temko. Illustrated by Randall Gooch. Photographs by Robert L. and Diane Wolfe. Lerner, 1997 (0-8225-2934-3) $28.95 library binding

Crafts are often used as a doorway to appreciating other cultures, and that seems to be the primary aim of this book. For each craft, there's a discussion about its place in Native American culture and the techniques that were originally used to create it, as well as a "how-to project" that imitates the craft with varying degrees of authenticity--Southwestern cascarones (decorated eggshells) are pretty simple to replicate, but construction paper totem poles can naturally be only a faint echo of the originals. Attractive photographs of both the genuine crafts and the imitations inspire readers to have a go; straightforward illustrations accompany the instructions. As these projects are sometimes time-consuming and require special materials, this book is probably most appropriate for classroom use. (8-14)

Traditional Crafts from Africa; Traditional Crafts from Mexico and Central America by Florence Temko. Illustrations by Randall Gooch. Photographs by Robert L. and Diane Wolfe. Lerner, 1996 (0-8225-2936-X; 0-8225-2935-1) $28.95 library binding

These books introduce readers to interesting crafts from other cultures, such as shining tin ornaments from Mexico and Kigogo game boards from Kenya. After a background description and a colorful photo of the authentic item, there are instructions on how to create a facsimile, generally using materials that are easier for children to work and easier to obtain in America, such as disposable baking trays for the tin ornaments. The step by step instructions are easy to follow and include appropriate cautions. This is a pleasant way to learn about crafts and other cultures at the same time; a good choice for teachers. (7-12)

Faith Ringgold by Robyn Montana Turner. Little, Brown, 1993 (0-316-85652-5) OP

Like previous books in the "portraits of women artists for children" series, Faith Ringgold uses the picture book format to intriguingly illustrate the life of the artist, with photographs of meaningful people and places, as well as excellent reproductions of her art. The simple biography is not enthralling, but does give a good background for understanding Ringgold's motivations as an artist and an activist for civil rights. This will probably be one of the most accessible books of the series for children, as Ringgold's work has a very child-like quality to it; according to the book, she is now, in fact, writing and illustrating children's books and has won a Caldecott honor. (8-12)

My Very Own Birthday by Robin West. Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. Carolrhoda, 1996 (0-87614-980-8) $14.96 library binding

This fun combination cookbook/crafts book has suggestions for five theme parties kids can create by themselves (or with a helpful adult.) The "Alien Adventure" party, for example, includes a recipe for Flying Saucer hamburgers and instructions on how to make a "Cosmic Candy Cup" out of construction paper. Most of the crafts can be modified to work with other themes, so a truly dedicated party thrower can really go to town, making special invitations, placemats, and so on--but it's also perfectly okay to start small. The book is nicely designed to be easy to read and use, with black & white sketches and color photographs of the finished products. Safety instructions are included, as well as a glossary and index. (8-12)

My Very Own Mother's Day by Robin West. Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. Carolrhoda, 1996 (0-87614-981-6) $14.96 library binding

In the same style and design as My Very Own Birthday, this book offers recipes for five possible Mother's Day meals and ideas for special presents kids can make. I like the emphasis on creating inexpensive gifts, which don't necessarily have to be tangible. (8-12)

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