5 Great Books About Art

My kitchen counter is currently submerged beneath a rising tide of art supplies. This means only one thing in our home: a new school year approaches! While I wrest the counter free from the clutches of colored pens and puck tempera, I’ll leave you with this post: an old one, but one of my very favorites. Though I’ve found several noteworthy art books since this post appeared in November 2014, the books on this list remain my trusty sidekicks in the art room. May your first weeks of the school year be colorful (but only in the best way)!


I am a writer. An artist. A musician. A singer of ridiculous songs. Drinker of tea. Dedicated fan of Foyle’s War. I am not—or had always maintained that I was not—a teacher. But then God said, “Ha!” And now I’m a teacher.

I mentioned before that my daughter attends a small university model, Classical school and that I am the makeshift librarian there. But as of this year, I am also the art teacher, a plot twist that I have enjoyed quite a lot and that now means that not only are there books on every available surface of our house but also pans of watercolors, oil pastel trays, and paintings laid flat to dry on our counters and tables and floors.

5 Great Books About Making Art | Little Book, Big Story

I test a lot of lesson plans (translation: I paint a lot!), but I also read a lot of picture books about art, because I’m finding that books are a great way to introduce an art lesson (or anything else, really) to a group of kids. And I’m finding that there are some really excellent books about art out there. In a departure from our usual fare (we seem to be making quite a few of those lately, which must mean that I’ve reviewed most of my very favorite books and am now looking elsewhere for inspiration), I have decided to share a list of my five favorite finds from the art section of our school’s small library:

1. MIX IT UP!, BY HERVE TULLET

Mix it Up! | Little Book, Big Story

How do you teach color theory to kids when they don’t have paint on hand to mix for themselves? Tullet gives us the next best thing: a book that the kids can interact with.

Mix it Up! | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book to all three of my classes, grades pre-K through 4, walking up and down the desks so that each student got a turn to press, smear, and shake the book, and I just loved watching how differently the students responded to it. One thing was universal: they adored it. One kindergartener looked at me wonderingly and said, “That book is really magic.” (I let her take it home for the weekend.)

2. LINES THAT WIGGLE, BY CANDACE WHITMAN

Lines That Wiggle | Little Book, Big Story

This playful book introduces children to the many, many ways we use lines both in art and everyday life. I just can’t get enough of the illustrations. The colors! The creativity! The wiggly lines!

Lines That Wiggle | Little Book, Big Story

I haven’t read this one to the students yet (or to my own children, one of whom is a student after all), but I am definitely looking forward to sharing it with them.

3. PANTONE COLORS

Pantone Colors | Little Book, Big Story

I didn’t immediately see the appeal of this book: at first glance, it looks like a slightly-larger-than-normal board book about colors with no discernible story line at all. But the magic of Pantone Colors is in the color squares: they have lovely names like “Orangutan Orange” or “Mitten Purple” and practically beg you to sit with your kids and study them.

Pantone Colors | Little Book, Big Story

We like to name our favorite color on each page, or guess each other’s favorite color, or choose our favorite color name (mine? “Wet Sidewalk Gray,” followed closely by “Grandma Gray.” Also, “Teapot Blue”). I originally bought a copy of this book for the school, but then . . . we kept it. So I had to buy a different one for the school.

4. BEAUTIFUL OOPS!, BY BARNEY SALTZBERG

Beautiful Oops! | Little Book, Big Story

This book is a tremendous gift for kids who struggle with perfectionism in drawing, as it explores mistakes and the various opportunities they provide. It’s a charming book, full of pop-ups, overlays, and clever three dimensional pages, like this one:

Beautiful Oops! | Little Book, Big Story

Beautiful Oops! encourages us to view mistakes as unexpected opportunities, and that is sage advice (delivered in a creative package).

5. SACHIKO UMOTO’S ILLUSTRATION SCHOOL SERIES

Illustration School | Little Book, Big Story

These books are great for slightly older kids (or adults, for that matter. I originally bought these for myself). Sachiko Umoto’s illustrations are fun to duplicate, and she walks readers through each one step by step. One thing I specifically appreciate about this series is that even though she draws stylized illustrations of people, plants, and animals, she pays special attention to the anatomy of the object under study: she doesn’t teach readers how to draw flower, but how to draw a poppy, or a hyacinth, or a daffodil.
Illustration School | Little Book, Big Story

Likewise, she not only teaches how to draw a person or a dog, but demonstrates the underlying skeleton, so we readers can see how the figure should move and why the limbs are placed the way they are. Her lessons are simple, but thorough.

BONUS

Here is my favorite series to work from while creating lesson plans for art class:

20 WAYS TO DRAW A CAT (OR A TREE, Tulip, MUSTACHE, AND MORE)

20 Ways to Draw a . . . | Little Book, Big Story

The 20 Ways to Draw  . . . series is fun because it doesn’t actually tell you how to draw a shark, but instead gives you a double-page spread of twenty different sharks, shown from various angles and drawn in various styles, to use as inspiration for drawing your own shark (or jellyfish or pine cone or fern).

20 Ways to Draw a . . . | Little Book, Big Story

I pull from these books when looking for a clear, simple way to draw, say, an apple, and my girls love to flip through them and request lessons on how to draw a specific picture. (On a related note, I have drawn a lot of cats since we got that book.)

LASTLY

If you would like more artsy inspiration, you can follow me on Pinterest. My feed is chock full of art for (and by) kids!

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Carrot Top Paper Shop GIVEAWAY

One of my favorite aspects of the picture book is the way it connects word and image. Chapter books unfold in what is essentially a private place (our imagination), even when we read them aloud as a family. We may build a shared memory of having read the book together and may even pull a few favorite lines into the family lexicon, but we’ll all still picture Green Gables a little differently or hear Pa’s laugh in a slightly different way.

And that is as it should be.

But picture books draw both parent and child (and baby doll and long-suffering cat) into the same visual world, adding details from beyond the text to give our own imaginings color and structure.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Print, from Carrot Top Paper Shop | Little Book, Big Story

Our oldest readers still enjoy a good picture book, and I’m thankful for that. But as they move more solidly into the realm of the chapter book, I find myself looking for ways to strengthen their imaginations, to give them images and beautiful artwork to nourish their own visions of the text. I sketch scenes for the younger ones while their papa reads aloud; I hand-letter favorite quotes for our walls, so that the words themselves become beautiful. And I look for lovely prints by other artists that will broaden and deepen the way they see each story.

Jane Eyre bookmark, by Carrot Top Paper Shop | Little Book, Big Story

When, in my quest for those prints, I discovered that one of this blog’s very own readers ran an Etsy shop filled with gorgeous, literary-themed art, well. A giveaway seemed in order.

Jenny Williams of Carrot Top Paper Shop opened her shop after an unfruitful search for bookish art for her daughter’s nursery compelled her to create her line of Literary Heroine prints. I fell for those immediately. Also, her hand-lettered quotes make me wish I had an extra wall in our house just to display them. (Wouldn’t that be lovely? To have a wall dedicated only to words?)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Quote, from Carrot Top Paper Shop | Little Book, Big Story

I settled for buying her print of Jo March for our Josephine, though I have a hunch that all four girls might find a print from Jenny’s shop in their stockings this year.

Enter to win an 8x10 print and a set of Literary Heroine bookmarks from Carrot Top Paper Shop! (Giveaway open until 8/26) | Little Book, Big Story

Because I love those prints so much and because Jenny just launched her newest literary heroine (along with a whole slew of wonderful new things—greeting cards and even this gorgeous mug!), we’re doing a giveaway! If you win—and two of you will win—you’ll receive an 8×10″ print of your choice, as well as a set of her Literary Heroine bookmarks.

Elizabeth Bennett bookmark, by Carrot Top Paper Shop | Little Book, Big Story

But Jenny’s also offering a little something for the rest of us: until Friday, 8/26, Little Book, Big Story readers get 25% off anything in her shop! Just use the code THEASENTME at checkout.

Giveaway Details

Enter your info into the form below and complete as many of the possible options as you like: share, follow, or comment away! The giveaway closes at midnight on 8/26. Two winners will be randomly chosen and notified by email.

 

If you live outside the US, you are welcome to enter! But please note that you are responsible for customs or import taxes that may apply to the transport of your artwork.

Best of luck to you all!

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The Bronze Bow | Elizabeth George Speare

My edition of The Bronze Bow told me delightfully little about the book—what it was called, who wrote it, what else the author is known for and that the book won a Newbery Award, but nothing at all about the story. I bought the book because of that award, and because I had a dim memory that somebody I respected had once said something about The Bronze Bow. But the book sat on my shelf, unread, until a few months ago when I finally took it down and plunged into the story.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare | Little Book, Big Story

The story itself was a pleasant surprise: set in Galilee during the first century, The Bronze Bow follows Daniel, a young man orphaned by the Romans and exiled from his village. Daniel longs to see Israel freed from the rule of the Roman Empire and dedicates all he has to fighting in an underground rebellion. But when his circumstances change and Daniel is drawn back into the life of his village, he is forced to reconsider what sort of victory God is working toward and how Daniel can best help bring it about.

I loved the historical detail in this book, but one of my favorite aspects of it is the way the story runs alongside that of the gospels, bumping up against the story of Jesus every so often. Jesus is a character in this book, so if that makes you squeamish, you’ve been warned. But the way Speare portrays him is beautiful and respectful and, as far as I can see, consistent with Scripture, though of course she portrays him creatively, supplying details outside those mentioned in the gospels. I found her descriptions so compelling, and I loved the way the other characters had to reckon with Jesus, the way his words and very presence kept shaping their decisions and responses in ways they could not explain.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare | Little Book, Big Story

Because of the age of the main characters (18 or so) and because Jesus appears in a fictional setting, I’d recommend saving this one until our child is old enough to separate this story from that of the gospels and to view it with discernment. Of course, you know your child better than I do, so take that recommendation with a grain of salt.

But The Bronze Bow is a beautiful example of historical fiction that brings history to life for the reader. And now, I’m off to read Speare’s other books—she’s fully won my trust as an author.


The Bronze Bow
Elizabeth George Speare (1997)

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The Quiltmaker’s Gift | Jeff Brumbeau

One doesn’t go looking for beautiful children’s books in a mortgage lender’s office, but that is where I found this one. We were there to get approved for our first homeowner’s loan, and while we waited for our appointment, I scanned the heap of outdated financial magazines for a copy of People (alas! I cannot resist the pull of People). I found, instead, The Quiltmaker’s Gift.

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau | Little Book, Big Story

And so, as my husband second-guessed the wisdom of buying a home so old it once had an outhouse, I disappeared into a lovely fable about a quiltmaker who lived atop the blue misty mountains. She made quilts whose “blue seemed to come from the deepest parts of the ocean, the whites from the northernmost snows, the greens and purples from the abundant wildflowers, the reds, oranges, and pinks from the most wonderful sunsets.” She created her quilts not for profit or fame, but to give to the poor and homeless.

When the king demanded that she make a gift of one of her quilts to him, the quiltmaker told him that, to earn one of her quilts, he must give away everything he owned. “With each gift that you give,” she said,” I’ll sew in another piece. When at last all your things are gone, your quilt will be finished.”

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau | Little Book, Big Story

In The Quiltmaker’s Gift, I saw the story of the rich young ruler the way I wish it had turned out (and still hope, in time, that it did turn out). Gail de Marken’s illustrations are vibrant and detailed, with another story tucked into the quilt’s patterns that give hints as to what happens next. Her style and those details suit the story of the king’s struggle and transformation beautifully.

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau | Little Book, Big Story

Finding this book that day in the bank was timely. Finding it on the shelf at our library this summer was timely too, as I was in the mood for something lovely to read on a blanket in the backyard. Perhaps I’ll even pull out an old quilt for the occasion.


The Quiltmaker’s Gift
Jeff Brumbeau, Gail de Marken (2001)

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10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Son

It will come as no surprise to you that I have a blind spot when it comes to writing book reviews. Have you guessed it?

Right.

I don’t have any sons.

I have no problem finding beautiful books for girls because I have four daughters, two of which are eager to snap up any book I bring home. But because I don’t have a son, it’s a little more difficult for me to find books to recommend here for boys.

I do, however, have a number of friends with sons who let their families serve as a sort of test audience for me. Did you like it? I ask their sons after they finish a book, resisting the urge to take notes as they answer. Then here, I say, and hand them another book. Try this one.

Ten Chapter Books To Read Aloud To Your Son | Little Book, Big Story

Of course, I’m learning that boys’ tastes vary as widely as girls’ do: one family of all boys adored The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic; one wanted nothing to do with it (there was a girl on the cover). One family loved the entire Little House series; another could stomach only Farmer Boy.

But because I’ve already done a few book lists for the girls, I wanted to compile a list for those of you with sons who are wondering what to read next. I left off some of the classics that you’ve seen again and again on book lists for boys—Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Books and such—and the classics that we all love already—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit. You already know about those ones.

The books on this list have received rave reviews from my test readers (ages 2-11) and will, I hope, be new to some of you. Of course, these books don’t appeal exclusively to boys: I’ve read or intend to read all of these to my daughters at some point. But they’re heavy on adventure, light on pretty dresses and a whole lot of fun to read aloud.

And if you read them to your boys, well—I would love to hear what your boys think about them. (I may even take notes.)

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Peterson (yes, that Andrew Peterson) has written one of the finest examples of Christian fiction out there. Period. (Read the full review.)

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Robin Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

A classic tale of chivalry, complete with archery contests, weddings at arrow-point, and plenty of bashing of crowns. There are many versions of Robin Hood’s adventures out there, but Green’s telling is my favorite (mostly because Maid Marian is awesome in this one). (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

If your sons are put off by the first half of this title, remind them gently of the second half: yes, this is a story about a princess. But it is also a story about goblins. And about a brave boy named Curdie, who wields his pickax to great effect. I’ve recommended this to at least three families of all boys and it’s gotten glowing reviews all around. (Read the full review.)

100 CUPBOARDS, by ND Wilson

100 Cupboards Trilogy | Little Book, Big Story

ND Wilson’s delightfully creepy trilogy about Henry York and the wall full of cupboards he discovers in his attic bedroom is full of adventure and powerful imagery. And good news: if your kids like this series, then they’ve just tapped the rich vein of Wilson’s books. He has plenty of other really excellent books out there. (Read the full review.)

HALF MAGIC, by Edward Eager

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

Four siblings discover a magic charm that grants wishes but only grants half wishes. This story had us laughing, sometimes uncontrollably and often unattractively, from start to finish. The rest of the series is equally funny. (Read the full review.)

THE GREEN EMBER, by SD Smith

The Green Ember, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

SD Smith’s first novel is about Heather and Picket, two rabbits cut loose from everything familiar and sent on an adventure. It’s pretty intense in the opening scenes, but tells a story of such beauty and hope that I simply cannot wait for the sequel‘s release. (Read the full review.)

See also: THE BLACK STAR OF KINGSTON, by SD Smith

 

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

When their father is unexpectedly called away, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis move from London to the English countryside with their mother where they find adventure, daring rescues and quiet, sunny days. It may not sound like much, but this is one of my very favorite children’s books, for boys and girls alike. (Read the full review.)

LITTLE BRITCHES, by Ralph Moody

[Currently loaned out to a friend’s son and unavailable for a photo shoot. But good news: it’s getting great reviews!]

The author chronicles his youth working on his family’s ranch. A fun, lively story full of the sort of adventures that made me a little relieved that I have a house full of (so far) mild-mannered girls.

THE WILDERKING TRILOGYby Jonathan Rogers

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Rogers retells the story of King David’s early years, complete with guilded gators, crumbling canyons, and feechiefolk (did I mention that this is a fictionalized retelling?). (Read the full review.)

LITTLE PILGRIM’S PROGRESSby Helen L. Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Like Pilgrim’s Progress, but about children. That might sound horribly cheesy to you (it did to me), but trust me: it’s not. Taylor’s retelling of Christian and Christiana’s adventures reminds kids that they don’t ride on their parents’ shoulders to the Celestial City, but are lovingly led there by their King. (Read the full review.)


Add to the List! Which books did I miss?
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All The Colors of the Earth | Sheila Hamanaka

With one brief exception, I have lived in this city since I was a toddler. I take my children to play in the same parks where I played as a child; we make our weekly excursion to the same children’s section of the same library I haunted as a girl (it hasn’t changed much since then). I went to college here, got married here, and can see my childhood home from our front porch.

This is a beautiful city, but I have learned that there is a sort of culture shock for people moving here from out-of-state: The annual Naked Bike Race. The independent circus. The organized disorder of the Friday afternoon protests. These can take some getting used to if you’re from a place where folks dress up from time to time and have a well-developed sense of propriety.

But when I ask new friends how they’re adjusting to life in this corner of the country, I almost invariably something about our near-complete lack of racial diversity. It’s very white here, one friend from the southeast said. And I suspect she was right, but I can’t really confirm it: this very white place seems normal to me, and that makes me nervous.

That means that I probably have a blind spot as a parent.

All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

We want our children to pursue God’s call, no matter where he takes them. And if he calls them away from here, then they will (we hope) find themselves living among people who differ from them in many respects, including skin color. We don’t want that to seem strange to them as adults. We’d much rather they learn to value those differences now, when they’re forming their understanding of the world.

So when that particular blind spot began to take shape for me, I tackled it the same way I tackle almost any issue that comes my way: I made a plan and bought a pile of books. (Note: I am trying to revise this strategy. I’d like to tackle issues by first praying for wisdom—and then making a plan and purchasing a pile of books. But it’s a process.)

All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

I suppose I should have said it earlier, but this post is really about two books: All the Colors of the Earth and the book that led me to it, Jamie C. Martin’s Give Your Child the WorldHer vision for giving her kids a global perspective helped clarify my desire to open our daughters’ eyes to the fact that people all over the world are beautifully different: not all adult men wear plaid and go on at great length about artisan beer. Not all cities have a population of folks who could easily have come from this video.

And not all children have fair skin made extra pale by the long gray winters spent indoors.

With that in mind, I bought my pile of books, and this one was at the very top. All the Colors of the Earth is a slender picture book that opens with the line, “Children come in all the colors of the earth.” Sheila Hamanaka goes on to describe the many varying shades of skin color in terms of nature:

The roaring browns of bears and soaring eagles,
The whispering golds of late summer grasses,
And crackling russets of falling leaves . . .

My girls loved this book. I got a little sniffly, too, as I read it, because it was a beautiful affirmation of God’s work in making each one of us different: rather than lumping us into groups without subtlety, Hamanaka treats skin color as a spectrum with gradients and variation. My daughters, by this book, are not “white” but “the tinkling pinks of tiny seashells by the rumbling sea.” And I hope that as they befriend children whose skin color varies from their own, they think not in terms of “black” or “brown,” but in words like “cinnamon, walnut and wheat.”

All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

Sheila Hamanaka uses the choicest language (and the sweetest illustrations) to describe the children of the world, and in doing so, she affirms the beauty of each child as an image-bearer of God. This is a timely message and one that I’m delighted to pass on to our daughters.


All the Colors of the Earth
Sheila Hamanaka (1999)

Give Your Child the World
Jamie C. Martin (2016)

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The Storm That Stopped | Alison Mitchell

Dear reader, this book brings me such joy. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I fell for it—was it the illustration of the disciples pulling their boat out into the sea?

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Their expressions during the storm?

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Or was it only at the end, when Mitchell brought the story to its beautiful conclusion, that I knew I’d fallen whole-heartedly in love with The Storm That Stopped?

I can’t say. But the book became one of my favorites to read aloud almost immediately.

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

What Scripture presents as a fairly simple narrative, Alison Mitchell shares with the energy of a good bedtime story. She tells not only what happened but why it was important: When Jesus calmed the storm with just a few words, what did it mean? What did that tell the disciples about who Jesus is? After reading the book, my husband said, “It’s a little like a sermon,” meaning that Mitchell doesn’t stop at telling the story, but goes one step further and tells us what the story is about.

Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations add yet another layer to the story and, if I’m perfectly honest, are what really got to me. You’ve seen her work already in The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, but she is at her best when illustrating the disciples: she shows how genuinely frightening it must have been to face the storm, but she does it in a way that is funny and endearing. My daughters and I giggled quite a bit over the disciples’ response to the storm, but a few short pages later, I found myself tearing up again—this time not from laughter but from wonder.

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Mitchell and Echeverri make a marvelous team and I am glad, because this isn’t their only book together. I’m already itching to read the others!


The Storm That Stopped
Alison Mitchell, Catalina Echeverri (2016)

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