Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Child's Introduction to Art - Heather Alexander

Title: A Child's Introduction to Art: The World's Greatest Paintings and Sculptures
Author: Heather Alexander, Illustrated by Meredith Hamilton
Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, May 20, 2014 (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 96 pages
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Started: May 7, 2014
Finished: May 8, 2014

From the inside cover:

No one knows when humans began creating art. The earliest paintings were found in caves from 30,000 years ago! Since then, art has been an important presence in cultures around the world from the pyramids in Ancient Egypt and sculptures in Ancient Greece to tapestries in the Middle Ages and ceremonial masks in Africa.

Beginning with cave paintings of 18,000 BC, A Child's Introduction to Art explores periods from art and artists throughout history. It highlights thirty-five well-known painters and sculptors including Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol.

Here are the great works of these famous artists, their biographies, explanations of their particular techniques and what inspired each of them to paint. Read about how American painter Mary Cassatt was one of the only women to attend art school in the 1800's, how Spanish painter Diego Velazquez started working as an artist's apprentice when he was only twelve years old, and how Auguste Rodin, one of the most famous sculptors in history, was rejected from the most famous art school in Paris three times!

Uncover hidden meanings and surprises like the fact that Spanish painter Salvador Dali hid a portrait of himself in his Persistence of Memory. And, learn the secrets of behind how some of the world's most famous paintings were created, like how Leonardo da Vinci brought in clowns and musicians to entertain the real-life Mona Lisa, and that Vincent Van Gogh painted Starry Night from his hospital room.

After reading about these famous artists and their work, you'll be ready to create your own art through projects like Q-tip pointillism, surreal collages, and splattering artwork.

As a teacher, I'm honest with parents that there will be gaps in their child's education that they will need to fill in, especially if the subject is important to them. I'm not talking about literacy or math, but subjects like visual arts, music and drama especially tend to fall to the wayside in our race to finish curriculum in the more basic areas. This is a shame, since most people agree that an education that includes the arts makes for a well-rounded child. The good thing is, being an English teacher, I'm a big believer that books can help to fill in these gaps; my arts education in school was pretty subpar, but with books, television, and music lessons, I feel I'm now fairly well-rounded in that area. Which brings me to this book. A Child's Introduction to Art fits my criteria for being deserving of a spot on your family's bookshelf: it is general enough to cover a lot of material without sacrificing the depth of information, and it is basic enough to engage a younger child but not too childish to alienate an older one.

The book begins with a very basic "what is art?" kind of page, which I love because it actually gives the best 'definition' of art I've heard anywhere. Then, a spotlight on ancient art from various cultures and their characteristics (I learned about the Bayeux Tapestry). Then the two-page spread profiles of the thirty-five artists and their most famous work, complete with comments on aspects of the paintings (I now look at Velazquez's Las Meninas in a completely new way). Peppered in between the profiles are sections on colour, museums, perspective, as well as easy project ideas: illuminated letters, upside down art ala Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel (I've actually seen a class do this, it's quite entertaining), silhouettes, and many others. The variety of artists portrayed is what I expected, all the typical ones you'd expect as well as some I didn't (I was quite happy to see Hokusai in the profiles and Ai Wei Wei mentioned; as well as Klimt's The Kiss, one of my favourites).

If that's not enough, inside the front cover is an attached envelope with 5 colouring page-type outlines of masterpieces for kids to colour: da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Monet's Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Cassatt's Young Mother Sewing, Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte, and Dali's  The Persistence of Memory.

Definitely something you want on your shelf for your child, this is something I can see 8-12-year-olds devouring on a lazy weekend while pulling out the art supplies. There are other books in this series that I'll be checking out now that I've seen what they're all about: the environment, greek mythology, the night sky, the story of the orchestra, poetry, and the world.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like a few things the illustrator did here. The kids are diverse in culture and gender, and some of the kids are emulating famous pieces (the girl at the bottom is imitating The Thinker, the two girls on the right are posing as Mona Lisa and the goddess Flora from Botticelli's La Primavera). Plus I love how the boy at the bottom left is reading a copy of this very book.

Giveaway: The publisher has generously offered a giveaway copy for one of my fine readers out there. Just fire me off an email to safielstar AT hotmail DOT com with your name and address (open to Canada and the US only),  I'll pick one at random and forward the winner's details to the publisher and they'll mail the book. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day on May 15th, at which point I'll pick the winner. Good luck everyone!

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