Amazon’s recommendations for children’s books on art will teach you a lot about how to draw, but less about how to make art (and not much about how to see art). Amazon’s top 20 best selling children’s books on Art, Music, & Photography do not include a single story about an artist. Even your heavy hitters, like Picasso, Van Gogh, and Warhol, do not make the list. There is a great story about crayons (an art making tool) by an author who is an artist (with a studio in New York). But not a story about how someone used those tools to combat injustice, love mystery, unwrap paradox, or infuse toil with meaning.
Many of the books on the list are good books, but most of them are how to draw, how to cook, how to sew, how to build legos. They aren’t books that lay a foundation for encountering art or show you about culture through artists. There are books that tell about the centuries of makers who have dived into the complicated mess of life to make sense or something out of it. But in Amazon’s top 100 best sellers on Art, Music, and Photography in Children’s books there are only four that even mention a real artist or artwork (1, 2, 3, 4).
In my wider search, the most common books about artists, artworks, or art movements are written to help you write a research paper. There are also many popular books about creativity that inspire you to make, unmake, and look like an artist. But it is difficult to find children’s books that introduce art history or art experience in a way that captures your imagination.
Most of us encounter more art through reproductions and stories than we see in their original form. But it’s hard to find books that pass on what I treasure about art with my children. That’s why I started writing about the books that we like best (in no particular order).