Best Children’s Books to Teach Art

Here’s another question from a reader that I wanted to share with you all. Kim is a Kindergarten teacher who wants to use books to introduce famous artists to her class. I wish I had a list to give Kim and all the other art teachers who have asked me over the years, but I don’t. I like to use picture books in my art lesson plans and posts, but often times they are used only to inspire a subject or art technique, not introduce an artist. I find that most artist-based children’s books can be too dry, too dense or read too old for my students.

But there are a few exceptions. Here are my favorites:

Matisse Dance with Joy [MATISSE DANCE W/JOY-BOARD] by Susan Goldman Rubin

I met Susan at the Pacific Northwest Children’s Writers Workshop in Portland a few years back and marveled at her prolific career. She has written many wonderful books on artists. Most are published by Chronicle Books and include many contemporary artists. Her board book, Matisse: Dance for Joy is perfect for the younger set and probably the best Matisse book for Kinders.

Me, Frida
 by Amy Novesky, Illustrated by David Dia

Hands down my favorite book on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The illustrations are exquisite. I mean it. They are an art teachers dream. The story is also perfect–not overly text-heavy, which would take a while to read in art class, and not too juvenile either.

Laurence Anholt writes a series of books for children called Anholt’s Artists. All the books are fabulous, as is his website promoting them.  Girl With A Ponytail and Van Gogh and the Sunflowers are two of my favorites. The text can be long, but if you hit the right grade level (3rd or 4th) then I think you’d have a captive audience.
Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail.

Van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children)

 Klimt and His Cat
by Berenice Capatti, Illustrated by Octavia Monaco

I rarely read books to my sixth grade classes, but I did with this one. The story is told through the perspective of Klimt’s cat and is paired with the most beautifully illustrated pages. This art inspired me to create this collage lesson for my 6th graders and to this day, it remains a favorite of mine today.

 Journey on a Cloud: A Children’s Book Inspired by Chagall
by Veronique Massenot and Elise Mansot

This is another stunning picture book inspired by the art of Marc Chagall. The ethereal illustrations are richly colored in hues of blue, all leading up to Chagall’s “Bride and Groom with Eiffel Tower” masterpiece. The text can be a bit dense for really young grades (although really quite whimsical) but the illustrations are perfect for every grade level. I haven’t developed an art lesson around this book yet, but I intend too. It’s simply too great to pass up.

 My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
A Portrait by Jeanette Winter

Of all the books on Georgie O’Keefe, I like this one best. It’s a quick read and describes in enough detail Georgia’s creative vision. I’d highly recommend this one for lower grades.

 When Pigasso Met Mootisse
by Nina Laden

I saved the best for last. This is probably the best all-time ever artist inspired picture books. It’s funny, provides hints of the personality quirks of the main stars and offers up fantastic, reproducible artwork. This lesson will be featured in my upcoming Art Booklet, Art & Literature II. Go out and buy the book today! A real gem for teaching about these two artists.

I hope this helps, Kim. I’ve enjoyed looking through my library of art books and feel inspired to start a new blog feature for book reviews. Then perhaps it’ll be easier to search for my book recommendations!

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  • The Orchard

    Thank you for sharing your book ideas. I have both of the Picasso books that you mentioned and used them for a lesson with grade 1 students. When Pigasso Met Mootisse is also one of my favourites!

  • phyl

    My favorites are “Uncle Andy’s”, an adorable book about a visit to Andy Warhol, written by his nephew, and “Dinner at Magritte’s” by Michael Garland. It is about a boy’s encounter with his neighbor, Magritte, and his visitor, Dali. The fabulous illustrations all really make the kids understand surrealism, and the kids LOVE looking for hidden stuff in in the images. Favorite book, hands down! I also like “Drawing with Scissors” (about Matisse, of course).

  • bryssy

    We started studying the masters last year in our homeschool and have LOVE Pigcasso and Mootise! My kids have spent hours copying pictures out of the books. For every artist we study, I like to find a fiction book or 2 about it. We also love the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists [non-fiction]. We really enjoyed The Yellow House: Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin Side by Side and Vincent van Gogh & the Colors of the Wind by Chiara Lossani and Octavia Monaco. Both great fiction books!

    Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Joan Yolleck and Marjorie Priceman was interesting because TIME magazine did a feature about Gertude Stein this summer and she is included in this story. We liked being to cross reference from a “kids’ book to a “grownup” magazine!

    Love your blog!

  • ishmael

    These are lovely suggestions. I’m interested of grabbing Van Gogh and the Sunflowers myself. I have always been an admirer of his art.

  • Denise Pannell

    I have an entire post over at my blog about books to use in the art room:


    I have also added links to websites that correspond with each book. I hope it helps someone because I spent five hours on that post!

    Thank you for posting your list of books- I am missing some of those and I try to budget to buy a few books each year.

    By the way, VanGogh and the Sunflowers is now called Camille and the Sunflowers. I have a link on my blog to the Anholt site where he reads the story directly to the kids. Showed it to my first graders just this morning.


  • jess ott

    Thank you SOOO much Patty! I have used a few of your books above and feel giddy about finding new books. I use literature a lot in my classroom (especially K-2’s) This post made my Saturday morning even better!!! 🙂

    an inspired reader…

  • Lisa Bell

    Matisse ok. L

  • Charles A. Wilson

    Great for littler minds and very nice objective’s study guide.

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