I Can’t Draw (Stephen W. Martin)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Can’t Draw, written by Stephen W. Martin and illustrated by Brian Biggs, a clever story about artistic talent and creativity, as well as comparing ourselves to others.

Max absolutely loves to draw, but he doesn’t feel that he is particularly good at it. His crayon drawings, while wildly inventive, are crude and one-dimensional, unlike the stunning shading and perspective of his friend Eugene’s pencil drawings. Asking Eugene to help him improve his drawing skills, Max finds himself frustrated with the drawing books and still life sketching his friend suggests. Drawing side-by-side doesn’t help much either, as Max quickly grows frustrated that Eugene’s work looks so much more realistic than his. At last, the pair find that tracing enables Max to make masterpieces… yet Max can’t help but feel like they lack something. In the end, perhaps Max will learn that art isn’t just about technique, but about creativity and expression, and maybe a dinosaur and robot or two.

Wonderful. Martin and Biggs brilliantly capture the frustration that readers of all ages can feel when comparing their artistic endeavors to others and feeling inadequate as a consequence (the dig at instructional drawing books in particular was spot-on, and my inner child made me guffaw loudly). Martin’s easy conversational text is fun to read aloud, and Biggs’s illustrations capture the humor and themes of expression perfectly. In the end, I loved the message that we should not compare our talents to others, especially as I read this with JJ. Having coordination and motor skill issues, she was actually very impressed with Max’s drawings from the beginning (“He CAN draw!” – JJ), and was delighted when Max learned that drawings don’t have to be technically perfect to make people happy. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ loved it. Overall, a great pep talk for aspiring artists everywhere, 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.)

Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas (Jeanne Walker Harvey)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Loveis Wise, a beautiful biography of an immensely inspiring artist.

Nothing brought young Alma Thomas more joy than exploring the glorious colors of nature in the flowering fields surround her childhood home. She developed her artistic pursuits from a young age, forming bowls and cups out of riverbank clay and baking them in the sun. Segregation in 1900’s Georgia kept her from attending school, but her parents filled their home with books and scholarly pursuits, eventually moving the family to Washington D.C. so their daughters could receive formal education. Alma’s passions for art and teaching combined, and she spent most of her life bringing the arts to black schools and neighborhoods. Finally, in her later years, she retired from teaching and began focusing on her own art, gaining recognition for the colorful abstract art she created, works inspired by her childhood and her passions for nature, culture, and progress.

A celebratory and empowering life story. Candidly, I was not familiar with Thomas or her work before reading this title, but this account of her life’s works has made me a fan. I was especially pleased that the story noted how Thomas’s widespread acclaim did not occur until her senior years, reminding readers that its never too late to try new things and chase new dreams. Harvey’s text expertly walks the tightrope of lyrical and informational, perfect for telling the story of a lifelong creative like Thomas. Wise’s artwork beautifully incorporates the colors and themes of Thomas’s work while maintaining a distinctive, grounded style. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both really enjoyed it. Overall, an exciting tale about a lesser-known artist, and we highly recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Sister Corita’s Words and Shapes (Jeanette Winter)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sister Corita’s Words and Shapes by Jeanette Winter, a picture book biography of pop artist Corita Kent.

As a young girl in Los Angeles, Frances Elizabeth Kent knew two things: that she loved to create art, and that she wanted to take her orders as a nun. Upon entering the convent and becoming Sister Mary Corita, she devoted herself to making art that represented her faith in God: His love, His people, and the world. She encouraged her art students to focus on the beautiful details of life, and made bold, colorful art that celebrated joy and hope, making it available for all to enjoy. When the archbishop of Los Angeles condemned Sister Corita’s work, she made the choice to leave the church and focus on her art, continued to spread love and beauty for the rest of her life through her paintings and prints.

A fascinating life story in a sometimes confusing package. Corita Kent – the name she went by after leaving the church – is an interesting figure in both her life story and within the art world; at a time when art was becoming increasingly cynical and commercial, her work was rooted in accessibility and optimism. Winter’s title is clearly a love letter to Kent’s mission, emulating Kent’s artistic style in the illustrations and using a clever visual device that frames each page through the “lens” of the “finders” Kent would have her students use to observe real life details. However, there are a few hiccups: several words and concepts in the text, such as “blasphemy” or “insomnia”, may be a little over the heads of the target audience. Also, considering the book’s universal themes, it’s disappointing to see nearly every single character within present as white (even in crowd scenes). But otherwise, the length is good for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed the bold, pop-art style illustrations. Overall, a compelling story with a few hiccups, but definitely worth a look. Baby Bookworm approved.

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

When I Draw A Panda (Amy June Bates)

Hello, friends! Our book today is When I Draw A Panda by Amy June Bates, a delightful tale of imagination, creativity, and expression.

A girl in white overalls and messy bun introduces herself to the reader as simply as possible: “I love to draw,” she states, gazing at a blank chalkboard wall with excitement. However, she points out that she is often encouraged to draw things “perfectly” or “the right way”. This does not appeal to the young artist, who prefers to create in her own way, such as swirling her chalk in circles until her own unique panda appears. She and the panda both enjoy drawing their own way, by giving their instruments free reign and allowing their imagination to fill in the blanks. So while their style may be a little “too crazy” for some, they don’t mind – not when their art makes them happy.

Adorable. This sweet tale reminds kids (and adults) that when it comes to art, there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to do things. This is both a nice encouragement for blossoming artists to let their creativity rule their efforts, as well as a good reminder to adults that children should be allowed to create in whatever way suits them personally. Bates’s charming illustrations and cheerfully irreverent text are a great match; the girl and her panda are both immediately lovable, and their imaginative illustrations are very entertaining; our favorite page gives a quick and fun tip for drawing dragons that we couldn’t wait to try out. The length is great for a quick storytime, and JJ loved it. A lovely ode to imagination, 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.)

A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead (Evan Turk)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead by Evan Turk.

As a young girl, Marietta longed to learn the art of glass-blowing, her father’s trade and one considered exclusive to men. Yet despite her brothers’ teasing, her father was supportive and patient, and Marietta bravely faced the hot and exhausting work of learning how to craft the beautiful glass. Visiting a wealthy patron with her father, she views a rare piece of Roman millefiori glass, a technique lost centuries earlier. Years later, she is reflecting on her childhood experiences with her father and the art he shared with her, and she attempts to recreate the intricate glass she once saw, inventing the rosetta bead, which would go on to become a valuable global trade of the Renaissance era.

Fascinating. I had never heard of Marietta or the history of the rosetta bead before, and felt incredibly enlightened to hear about such an incredibly influential female artist. Particularly appreciated is the focus on Marietta’s courage in learning glasswork, not only because it was not considered a suitable trade for women at the time, but because of the physical fortitude and skill it took to master. The artwork – inspired by the subject’s time and the glasswork she created – is warm and its subjects compelling, though the soft focus of the glassworks make it difficult to appreciate the details that made them so famous. Also, the length is best for patient bookworms; JJ started getting the wiggles near the end. Yet this is a fascinating story to be sure, especially for lovers of art and women’s history; Baby Bookworm approved!

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