Growing Readers Review: Children's Books that Celebrate Art & Music

Preschool aged boy smiling and holding his drawing

A few years ago at a back-up center, some preschoolers were looking at examples of modern art. They talked about the colors, composition and technique of Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and others and then took matters into their own hands. They painted in the style of the artist that appealed to them, and the center was filled with beautiful creations. Each day parents enjoyed the growing gallery.

Now in back-up care, children attend when their regular care is not available, so some time can pass between visits. And over that time, teachers change center displays focusing on the children's latest work. One little boy returned to the center two months after the art activity. He took a quick look around and demanded, "Where is my Matisse?!" Clearly, the activity had left an impression on this young artist.

Young children are ready for the arts - music, dance, drawing, painting are all part of a child’s world. They are naturally visual artists and performers, and may just draw their inspiration from the books featured in this edition of Growing Readers Review.

By Susan C. Brenner, EdD.


Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle, Preschool: Flora loves to dance and wants so much to imitate the beautiful moves of the graceful flamingo who is not interested in her earnest attempts. In this 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, the author tells their story with no words, but pictures filled with hope and humor and finally, friendship. The book's clever construction invites the reader into the story. Youngsters will put their own words to this beautifully drawn tale.

Sing, lyrics and music by Joe Raposo and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, Infant & Toddler: Sing…Sing a Song…are the opening words of a song made popular by Sesame Street that has been sung by numerous famous musicians. This version features a sweet bird that just can't quite find her voice. The bird starts out a little defeated but thanks to a boy who is singing his heart out while sitting under the bird's nest, our feathered friend finds her strength and inner voice.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, School Age: This beautifully illustrated biography tells the story of Horace Pippin, grandson of a slave, who got his first set of paints when he won an art contest as a boy. He helped
support his family leaving little time for drawing. After a war injury wounded his drawing arm, he slowly re-taught himself to draw. He was noticed by N.C. Wyeth and his work started to receive the recognition it was due. Today his artwork is displayed throughout the USA.

What's Your Favorite Animal?, written by Eric Carle and illustrated by Eric Carle and Friends, School Age: This renowned author and illustrator asked his friends to choose their favorite animals. Because his friends were also well-known writers and illustrators, they made their choices with wit, color, poetry, and more. You can't see Mo Willems' favorite, the Amazonian Neotropical Lower River Tink-Tink, because unfortunately it was eaten by the snake on Willems' page. Peter Sís recounts a tale from his childhood in the Czech Republic where children rallied to save blue carp. Nick Bruel's cat shamelessly cajoles Eric Carle into sending him a meatloaf. This book is bound to not only start the discussion about children's favorite animals, but to get them illustrating their own stories as well.


Faces for Baby, written by Yanna Peel and illustrated by Various Artists, Infant & Toddler: This board book combines facial recognition, diversity, and art. Each page highlights a unique face illustrated by a well-known artist. At the end, children will delight as they discover themselves in the mirror.

Black and Blanco: Engaging Art in English y Español, edited and designed by Madeline Budnick and photographed by Peggy Tenison, Infant & Toddler: The contrast of black and white is shown in a variety of interesting works from the San Antonio Museum of Art. And the bonus for young readers is that the text is in English and Spanish.

When Stravinsky Met Nanjinsky, written and illustrated by Lauren Stringer, Preschool: The Russian artists Igor Stravinsky, musician, and Vaslav Nijinsky, dancer, had their dreams come true in a radical ballet which they wrote called The Rite of Spring. This ballet signified the birth of modern music and dance.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper, Preschool: Through thoughtful questions and lovely pictures, we can imagine the world of a young boy immersed in color. That boy is Henri Matisse and the author suggests that he painted what he saw in his childhood.

Get Into Art Animals: Discover Great Art and Create Your Own!, written by Susie Brooks, School Age: Behind each work by a famous artist lies a project to explore an art technique. Young readers are encouraged to observe and then make their own unique creations.

Brush of the Gods, written by Lenore Look and illustrated by Meilo So, School Age: This brilliantly illustrated book is about the life of Wu Daozi, believed to be China's greatest painter. He captures the attention of everyone as his beautiful talent creates spectacular paint brush strokes that spring to life.

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About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Preschool aged boy smiling and holding his drawing