My son has always loved to paint, draw, and collage… none of which is in my repertoire. Did I tell you I got kicked out of art school? But I love my kiddo’s art, and so I’ve spent time finding story books to validate and encourage that interest. Here are some of our favorite art and creativity themed children’s picture books. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!
Metal Man by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Paul Hoppe. I love this book SO MUCH. Devon loves hanging out with Mitch, a welder in his neighborhood who creates art out of junk. One day, Mitch invites Devon to create something of his own, and gently pushes him to realize his vision instead of holding back and being afraid. I can’t stop looking at the art, especially the shots where Hoppe uses perspective in such an interesting way.
Painting with Picasso, by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober, is part of a series of board books for kids that use the works of master painters as illustrations. We had a handful of them, and they were quite welcome when Boy Detective was bitty because they added variety and quality to the art we were looking at in books. Painting with Picasso, though, stands out among them because it starts inviting the young reader to consider not just the paintings themselves, but also the stories behind the paintings and the existence and role of the artist in bringing these paintings into existence.
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. If you haven’t read this classic yet, do it! A testament to the power of imagination and the enjoyment of both a good adventure, and the end of an adventure when you get home to your own bed. The book also includes pie, which is always a plus for me.
Gizmo, written by Barry Varela and drawn by Ed Briant. What starts as the failed design for a perpetual motion machine becomes much more as Professor Glink keeps adding on, to the delight of his children and soon the whole town. Except for the building inspector, who threatens to have the whole thing torn down due to the lack of a permit. It will take some quick thinking by the mayor and the head of the city art museum to save this case of “art for art’s sake.”
The Pencil, written by Alan Ahlberg and illustrated by Bruce Ingman. This isn’t quite about art itself, but any child who spends a lot of time with art materials will especially appreciate this quirky little book about a pencil and a paintbrush who together create a whole world. They find out that it’s more difficult to manage than they expected!
The Dot, written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. This was among the earliest children’s picture books that I fell in love with. It’s about finding your own artistic voice. Vashti, a young girl, starts from a place of complete frustration with any request to create art, and ends up a prolific artist who begins to mentor another young artist. Unlike every other Reynolds book I read after, it’s very, very restrained in the narration. It lets the story communicate the message instead of using narration that’s equivalent to big neon “inspirational” signs.
Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, with art by Satoshi Kitamura. If Satoshi Kitamura draws it, we will read it. And we were richly rewarded with this one. When extraordinary teacher Mr. Gee shows up in an ordinary boy’s ordinary classroom, no one knows what to think. Listen to music and write what it makes you see? What’s this guy on about? For the ordinary boy, though, it’s like a key fitting into a lock that he didn’t even know was there. Kitamura does a great job here transitioning from the greyscale ordinary world to the vibrant adventurous imaginary world.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This little inventor gal and her sidekick pup crack me up. She has a vision, if she could just get it to work! Luckily he’s there to break the tension when the frustration overloads, and chase away squirrels when she needs to concentrate. A lesson about trying and trying again presented with a big helping of humor.
Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look, illustrated by Meilo So. Gorgeous book about artist Wu Daozi, one of the greatest painters in Chinese history. It’s rare that a biographical children’s picture book successfully captures my interest as a story, beyond its value as a learning opportunity, but Look and So grabbed me completely. I can’t wait to share this one with Boy Detective. The combination of art and magic is going to be right up his alley. [Edited to add: he loved it.]
And that’s the list of our favorite children’s books about art and creativity!