When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel by G. Neri, illustrated by David Litchfield

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for when paul met artie amazon

Summary:  This story of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel begins at their Central Park concert on September 19, 1981, then travels back in time 30 years to when the two boys were growing up in 1950’s Queens.  They became friends in a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland, and were inspired by Elvis and other early rockers to try harmonizing, later adding Paul on guitar. At 15, they had their first hit record as Tom and Jerry (Simon and Garfunkel was deemed to Jewish-sounding for 1950’s America), but later recordings failed to catch on.  They met up again in the early 1960’s and released another record, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., another flop, except that one song, “The Sound of Silence”, slowly started climbing the charts.  The book ends on New Year’s Day, 1966, when that song reached number one. Includes an afterword, discography, bibliography, and list of musical connections.  48 pages; ages 10 and up.

Pros:  An absorbing history of one of the greatest duos of the rock and roll era.  Each page is a poem titled with one of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs, beginning with “My Little Town”, describing the suburb of Queens where the two grew up.  The illustrations are occasionally goofy, as the two boys were, but really capture the changing times from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. Any fan of their music will enjoy this history and undoubtedly learn a few things as well.

Cons:  Although this looks like an elementary school purchase, it would probably be more interesting to middle schoolers and older, and definitely requires some familiarity with Simon and Garfunkel’s music to be fully appreciated.

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Maria Merian faced some tough obstacles to studying science in the 17th century, not the least of which was the risk of being painfully executed for practicing witchcraft.  Fortunately, she had a supportive family who was pretty tolerant of her obsession with insects.  Her father was a printer and engraver; after he died, she had an artist stepfather.  Both included her in the family business, and Maria used her artistic skills to capture what she observed in nature.  She set about disproving the theory of spontaneous generation by studying the life cycles of as many moths and butterflies as she could.  As an adult she produced books of her subjects, usually in their natural habitats, making connections between plants and animals that few of her contemporaries observed.  In her 50’s, she traveled with her daughter to Suriname, where she was among the first European naturalists.  Her final masterpiece, an illustrated guide to the insects and plants she observed there, was well-received throughout Europe and influenced John James Audubon and other naturalists more than a century later.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index.  160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A fascinating biography of a woman who was many centuries ahead of her time, balancing family and running a household with her art and science careers.  Her paintings and engravings throughout the book are almost unbelievably detailed and realistic.  Newbery poet Joyce Sidman named each chapter for a stage of a butterfly’s life and wrote an appropriate poem for each.

Cons:  While the book seems like it could appeal to third and fourth graders (only 120 pages of text and lots of pictures), the subject matter makes it more appropriate for grades 5-8.

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The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Nek Chand grew up in a tiny village in the Punjab region of Asia, collecting stories from family members and the traveling minstrels who visited during holidays.  Those stories inspired him to create his own world from rocks, sticks, and clay.  As a young man, he was forced to leave his home in 1947 when the Punjab was divided into India and Pakistan, and those who practiced the Hindu religion had to leave Muslim Pakistan.  Nek settled in the city, but longed for his home.  He found a deserted plot of government land and created a secret kingdom from trash that he found along the roads.  He kept his creation hidden for 15 years until government officials discovered it and threatened to tear it down.  When people from the city came to see it, though, they knew it was a work of art worth saving.  They convinced the officials to preserve it, and have continued to do so following Chand’s death in 2015.  Includes an author’s note about Nek Chand and an extensive bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fascinating story of an artist who worked to create his vision without much hope of ever profiting from it or even being able to share it with others.  The beautiful illustrations bring the story to life, including a foldout page with photos of the actual “secret kingdom”.

Cons:  A map of the region and additional historical information about India and Pakistan would have been useful.

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Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  Growing up in segregated North Carolina, Ernie Barnes wasn’t allowed to go to art museums.  He loved to draw, though, and his mother often took him with her when she worked at a wealthy lawyer’s house so that Ernie could see the paintings hanging on the walls.  In high school, his size caught the attention of the football coach, and he did well enough on the team to earn 26 college scholarships.  After college, he played professionally, but his first love was always art.  In 1964, he quit football to pursue painting full time, eventually winning fame for his portrayal of sports scenes (he was the official artist of the 1984 Olympics) and African Americans that he remembered from his childhood.  Includes an historical note, notes from the author and illustrator, and a substantial list of additional resources.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The large, beautiful illustrations by Bryan Collier pay homage to Ernie Barnes, and include copies of some of his work.  Barnes’s story is an inspiration to follow your dreams.

Cons:  Although a few of Barnes’s works are reproduced with the endnotes, Sugar Shack, one of his most famous that is mentioned several times in the notes, isn’t shown.

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The Idea Jar by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Deb Pilutti

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Image result for idea jar lehrhaupt amazon

Summary:  “This is my teacher’s Idea Jar.  We keep our story ideas in it.”  The narrator explains how ideas can be about anything.  They can be used to create stories that are told, drawn, or written down.  There’s no such thing as a bad story idea.  But if the ideas stay in the jar, they can get bored and rowdy.  So it’s important to keep them under control by using them in stories, where they want to be.  On the last few pages, the class works together, starting with one idea, then weaving in others to create one big story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The story jar is sure to find a home in many classrooms.  This would be a good read-aloud to encourage young writers.

Cons:  It looks so easy…just pick an idea, and you will be able to create a story.

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Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary:  From the time she was a child, Mary Blair loved colors of all hues.  She used them at art school, and they led her to a job at Disney Studios, one of the first women to be hired by them.  Once there, though, a group of older men rejected her colorful drawings, preferring to stick with mostly black and white.  She did succeed in catching the attention of one man, Walt Disney himself, who invited her on a tour of South America to create art.  Upon her return, under the South American influence, her art grew even more eye-popping, and some of her ideas were finally accepted, including Cinderella’s pumpkin coach and Alice in Wonderland’s caterpillar.  But too many of her ideas were turned down, and Mary went off on her own, where she created children’s book illustrations and theater sets.  A few years later, Walt Disney approached her with a new plan, and Mary became the chief designer for his “It’s a Small World” ride.  At last, her colors could flow freely, and the world could finally see Mary’s world as she had always imagined it.  Includes an author’s note with biographical information.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A colorful biography of a little-known artist with a connection most kids will recognize and a “be yourself” message about creativity.

Cons:  Now we will all have “It’s a Small World” stuck in our heads for the rest of the day.

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Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

Summary:  James Castle was deaf, mute, and autistic.  He never learned to read or speak.  He spent a good portion of his childhood in the loft of an unused icehouse, and later lived in an abandoned chicken coop.  His parents and teachers actively discouraged him from art, but he kept creating it any way he could.  He would collect scrap paper, and use a burned match and saliva to draw.  The people and animals he created from cast-off cardboard became his friends.  His nephew, Cort Conley, loved to watch him draw.  When Cort went to art school, he showed one of his teachers his Uncle Jimmy’s work.  The professor was so excited, he drove to Boise, Idaho to meet James, and later organized an exhibit in Portland, Oregon.  Other exhibits and sales followed, and when James Castle died, he left behind over 15,000 pieces of art.  An author’s note explains how Allen Say came to write this book after being asked by his friend Cort to create a portrait of his uncle.  64 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A sad but fascinating story of a man who was pretty much treated like trash by everyone who knew him, including his own family, yet continued to create art whenever and wherever he could.  Much of Allen Say’s art is done in the style of Castle’s, and may very well be considered for a Caldecott.

Cons:  I wasn’t sure if the illustrations were done by Castle, or by Say in Castle’s style.  If they were the originals, some captions would have been helpful; if they weren’t, I would have liked to see some of the originals at the end of the book.

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