Bob Ross: My First Book of Colors (Robb Pearlman)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Bob Ross: My First Book of Colors, written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Bob Ross, a look at the thirteen signature paint colors of the beloved artist.

“This is your world,” the text begins over a lakeside mountain vista, immediately capturing the soothing timbre and tone of iconic artist Bob Ross. The narrator describes each color – accompanied by a Bob Ross original that showcases it – as though leading the reader through a painting lesson. Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue – each of the thirteen paint colors that Ross favored is brought to life through his work, described with familiar phrases such as “happy little” tree trunks and “it’s just that easy”. After all, this is your world, and you can make it anything you want.

Peaceful and sweet. A love letter to Ross and the fans who grew up with him, a majority of the references may fly over the heads of younger readers. However, for those parents and caregivers who remember Ross so fondly, it’s easy to see how the narration and tone of the book capture his voice and style: soothing, inspiring, and comforting. So while younger readers may not get the same hit of nostalgia, they can still enjoy the lovely colors and serene nature scenes. JJ’s never seen a Bob Ross episode in her life, but she very much enjoyed the artwork and the quietude of the text. The length is perfect for a short storytime, especially for young nature and art lovers. A sweet title that serves as a fine tribute to Ross and his work. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood (F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell,and illustrated by Rafael López.

A little girl named Mira sits in her bedroom in the city, and draws (it’s her favorite thing to do). Mira likes to look at a blank sheet of paper and think, “What if?”; in creating her colorful masterpieces, she’s filled her room with a rainbow of hues. However, the city outside remains a bit dull – perhaps Mira could change that too. She gathers some of her drawings and spreads them around the neighborhood, giving a red apple to the shop owner, a flower to Ms. Lopez, and taping a bright yellow sun to the wall. It’s the last one that captures the attention of a passerby painter, who closely examines Mira’s picture, prompting the girl to ask what the man sees. “Maybe… something beautiful,” he replies, explaining that he is a muralist and inviting Mira to help him with his work. As the two fill the gray neighborhood with color, more neighbors join them, adding their own color, music, and joy to the artworks. At last, the neighborhood has been transformed into a place of inspiration and happiness; something beautiful, indeed.

Wonderful. Based loosely on the real life San Diego Art Trail, the story is told with the focus more in the art – and the magic of making it – than dates or names. Indeed, the muralist of the story is unnamed, though he is clearly identified as being López in the backmatter. Rather than the López being the focus, this is instead placed upon the communal nature of the murals, and how art can bring people together, inducing happiness through both its admiration and creation. Mira provides an excellent character to provide point-of-view; even her name is a clever nod to the act of appreciating art. My only complaint is a scene on when the muralist, at that point a stranger, invites Mira to come with him to create art and she does; it may be important to point out to young readers that they should never go off with strangers. Still, the glorious illustrations will inspire, the length is good, and JJ loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints The Night Sky (Barb Rosenstock)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints The Night Sky, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary GrandPré, a look at the life and mind that inspired a masterpiece.

Even as a baby, Vincent Van Gogh didn’t need to be asleep to dream. As a child, he would sneak out of the house at night and lie out under the stars, finding peace in the vast twinkling sky. But as Vincent grew, he struggled: with money, with his mental and physical health, with the frustrating, elusive ability to express himself. Vincent had one joy and solace, and that was painting the world around him, capturing the color and light and life of what he saw onto canvas. Life was often hard for Vincent, but his pain somehow inspired him to make beautiful, timeless works that have been treasured by so many since.

Honestly, I was nervous going into this. Van Gogh was such a complicated and tragic figure that I worried how a picture book may portray him. But this is a gorgeous, thoughtful, and contemplative story that both celebrates the art of Van Gogh while not shying away from the troubled soul that created it. Vincent’s many issues are kept vague enough so as not to fly over the heads of young readers, but the delicate art and tone of the text conveys them with appropriate gravity – it’s gentle and sad in a way that children will understand but not be overwhelmed by. The art, inspired by the color palettes and curling brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s art, sets perfect tone. The length is good, and JJ really enjoyed it. A pensive yet delicate story that shows how great beauty sometimes comes from great pain – yet the beauty can be what makes the pain bearable. Baby Bookworm approved.

Frida Kahlo And Her Animalitos (Monica Brown)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Frida Kahlo And Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra, a lovely storybook primer on the beloved artist.

Frida Kahlo had many passions, and two of them were painting and animals. She had many pets throughout her life: a parrot, spider monkeys, two turkeys, three dogs, a black cat, an eagle, and even a baby deer. The animals reflected much of Frida’s nature and history: she was curious and clever like a monkey, independent and resilient like a cat, and loved growing up in a lovely blue home the color of her parrot’s feathers. Even through sickness, injury, and loneliness, Frida took comfort in her animals and her art. And even today, her home is a sanctuary for the animals that inspired her.

This was a unique and sweet way to introduce Frida to a younger audience, and mostly succeeded in doing so. The layout of the story – introducing the animals first, then connecting them to various times, events, and themes of Kahlo’s life – is very engaging for little ones, and feature a loving look into Frida’s relationships with her family, her pets, and her culture. The art is lovely, combining a vintage storybook style with Frida’s own color palette. However, one quibble: not ONE of Kahlo’s painting was featured! The backmatter includes a photo and recommendations for paintings to look into, but no samples of Kahlo’s actual art can be found. It was a noticeable omission, and a disappointing one. Otherwise, the length was fine, and JJ enjoyed the illustrations, so we’re still going to recommend this one, but perhaps as a supplement to a fuller lesson on Kahlo and her work. Baby Bookworm approved!

Radiant Child: The Story Of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Javaka Steptoe)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Radiant Child: The Story Of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, a loving biography of the singular artist and the childhood that inspired him.

From the very start, Jean-Michel dreamed of being a famous artist. He would draw and draw and draw, filling pages and sheets of whatever paper he could find with the pictures in his head. What he drew was often strange, even ugly, odd and misshapen, but somehow also beautiful. His stylish, art-loving mother encouraged this passion, drawing with him, reading him poetry, and bringing him to museums so he could be inspired. Even after his mother became mentally ill and was committed, Jean-Michel would visit her, bringing his artwork and promising that he would be a famous artist one day. When he was old enough, he struck out, making his canvas the streets of Manhattan and whatever blank walls he could find. He drew strange and wondrous things that were scary, chaotic, powerful, and beautiful. He eventually became a famous and beloved artist, and was nicknamed what his parents had known him to be from boyhood: the Radiant Child.

Really gorgeous. This is a very admiring biography that captures the style and stories behind Basquiat’s standout artwork. The story focuses on his drive and motivation, yet is honest enough to not shy away from difficult details (with the exception of Basquiat’s death by heroin overdose, which is covered in the appendix). It’s a lesson in how we learn and make art from pain, and well done. The art is gorgeous, using practical backgrounds and employing many of Basquiat’s signature styles to show his journey as a boy and an artist. The length is fine, and JJ especially loved the colorful art. A great introduction to a troubled yet brilliant artist for little readers, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)