Five Picture Books About the Fine Arts

The fine arts bring joy to the soul, and these women creators have produced works that do just that. Corita Kent is profiled twice, and readers are also treated to a behind-the-scene tour of how art exhibits are put together.

The fine arts bring joy to the soul, and these women creators have produced works that do just that. Corita Kent is profiled twice, and readers are also treated to a behind-the-scene tour of how art exhibits are put together.

Blumenthal, Deborah. Violet Velvet Mittens with Everything: The Fabulous Life of Diana Vreeland. illus. by Rachel Katstaller. 48p. Princeton Architectural. Oct. 2021. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781648960635.
Gr 2-5 –Readers get a glimpse into the life of fashion icon Diana Vreeland in this picture book biography. Born in Paris in 1903, Vreeland grew up surrounded by art, music, and design. She had a love of bright colors and bold makeup that led her to a career in fashion and writing a column for Harper’s Bazaar called, “Why Don’t You?” The column was filled with quirky fashion advice such as, “Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?” Using quotations from the column and Vreeland’s autobiography, this book is written as if Vreeland is speaking directly to readers. With only a few sentences on each page, the biographical information is sparse. Instead, this reads like a conversation with Vreeland as she tells readers highlights from her life. An author’s note fills in more details. Also included is a resource page for those wanting to know more about the fashionista. The mixed media artwork is the star of the book. The bold colors pop and the stylistic design make a nice counterpoint to the text. The palette of purples and reds reflect Vreeland’s love of red lipstick and her suggestion to wear violet mittens. Included in the illustrations are cut-out collages of what appear to be newspapers or magazines. VERDICT Purchase to fill gaps in artsy picture book biography shelves. –V. Lynn Christiansen, Wiley International Studies Magnet Elem. Sch., Raleigh, NC

Burgess, Matthew. Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent. illus. by Kara Kramer. 80p. Enchanted Lion. Aug. 2021. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781592703166.
PreS-Gr 2 –The idea that art is for everyone is at the heart of this picture book biography about pop artist, activist, teacher, and nun Sister Mary Corita Kent. Born Frances Elizabeth Kent in Hollywood, CA, in 1918, she was inspired by a nun who gave her art lessons in sixth grade, and by her father who encouraged her to create original art. After taking her vows, Kent divided her time between teaching art to school children and training young nuns to be teachers. She studied art history, learned printmaking, and specialized in silkscreen printing, or serigraphy. Kent invented the word plork, a combination of the words play and work to describe her approach to creating art. She used her artwork to speak out about injustice, poverty, and war. At age 50, Kent asked to be released from her vows and moved to Boston, where she was commissioned to paint a tank for the Boston Gas Company that became the largest copyrighted work of art in the world. Her continued success led to the opportunity to design a stamp for the United States Postal Service. Kent’s design included a rainbow, which she used as a symbol of love, hope, and kindness. Back matter includes a chronology and notes by the author and illustrator. The vibrant artwork supports the text and incorporates quotes by Kent as it takes inspiration from her style. VERDICT An invitation to create and explore self-expression all wrapped up in the celebration of an artist kids aren’t likely to have encountered yet; a highly recommended purchase for biography collections. –Samantha Lumetta, P.L. of Cincinnati and Hamilton Cty., OH

Globus, Doro. Making a Great Exhibition. illus. by Rose Blake. 40p. David Zwirner. Sept. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781644230497.
PreS-Gr 2 –A glimpse into the work that goes into an art exhibition. Globus begins with two fictional abstract artists: Viola, a sculptor of large freestanding pieces, and Sebastian, a painter of large geometric oils. Where they work, the everyday items that inspire them, the media they use, the studies they create, and the assistants Viola employs, are all duly noted. The text operates on three levels: a paragraph per full-page illustration or spread advances the story line; single sentences describe individual scenes on each spread; and one-word labels note the many items (chair, airplane) and tools of the trade (blow torch, canvas) found throughout. Mirroring the artists’ work, Blake’s illustrations feature vibrant, pop background colors, and often geometric layouts. From the creators’ studios, the artwork travels via plane, boat, and truck to the museum, where readers are introduced to the diverse staff that plays a role in putting on an exhibit, with a brief description of what each person does. And, as it should, hoopla surrounds the show’s grand opening: the artists arrive in fancy dress, photos are taken, guests descend, and later, toasts are made. Jan Mark’s The Museum Book, for slightly older children, focuses on the many types of collections while adding a bit of museum history. VERDICT Place this cheery if busy introduction in the hands of early elementary teachers planning a trip to an art museum and families that frequent them for insight into the long road from artistic creation to exhibit. –Daryl Grabarek, formerly at School Library Journal

Nakamura, May. Yayoi Kusama: Ready-to-Read Level 3. illus. by Alexandra Badiu. 48p. (You Should Meet). S. & S./Simon Spotlight. Oct. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534495654; pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-1534495647.
PreS-Gr 2 –Emerging readers are introduced to world-renowned Japanese pop artist Kusama, who creates in a variety of media—painting, writing, sculpting, film, and even fashion design. Kusama’s work typically includes repetitive patterns inspired by hallucinations the artist began experiencing during childhood. Her family-owned land was ripe with flowers and vegetables in Japan prior to World War II, which inspired her to spend hours outside drawing. When the war began, Kusama was required by the government to work in a parachute factory, despite being only 10 years old. She never lost sight of her dream to live and work as a professional artist, even with her mother’s disapproval. The artist made plans to study art in Kyoto after the war. Kusama moved to the United States in the 1950s and experienced success as an artist, inspiring many of her peers who, in some cases, copied her ideas and took credit for them. Today she enjoys worldwide popularity, critical acclaim, and a celebrity status that allows her art exhibitions to sell out within hours. Back matter consists of short bios on famous female artists and a list of fine arts degrees that will help young people in career awareness and exploration. This fresh offering features artwork inspired by Kusama, with text aimed at newly independent readers. VERDICT An exciting addition to school and public library biography collections. –Samantha Lumetta, P.L. of Cincinnati and Hamilton Cty., OH

Winter, Jeanette. Sister Corita’s Words and Shapes. illus. by Jeanette Winter. 48p. S. & S./Beach Lane. Sept. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534496019.
K-Gr 3 –The author of numerous picture book art biographies turns her attention to Sister Corita (1918--86)—artist, educator, and activist whose silkscreens, with their messages of love, peace, and social justice, were ubiquitous in the 1960s and early 1970s. Inspired by the era in which she lived, Sister Corita employed vibrant colors and, at times, snippets of consumer logos typical of Pop Art in her work, along with words and quotes in response to the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. The author describes the innovative educator as a “tiny whirlwind” who encouraged her students to “find the details in the larger picture.” Her progressive ideas at Immaculate Heart College caused the archbishop of Los Angeles to call them “blasphemous,” and she left the convent soon after. Winter’s signature style is in evidence here: one or two simple sentences per page that capture the spirit of the person and time, and shallow-stage scenes against a white background. With a nod to the artist, she incorporates words into most of the illustrations, and often makes bold color choices. Winter includes Sister Corita’s “10 Rules” for students, which offer a glimpse into the woman’s teaching methods, comments on the new openness of the Catholic Church after Vatican II, and a brief, selected bibliography. VERDICT Parochial schools will want this title, as well as libraries where there is a need for books about artists, activists, and those who lead a religious life.–Daryl Grabarek, formerly at School Library Journal

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