Books for Budding Artists

As our girls transition out of baby-and-toddlerland, we have noticed that story time with them is growing more and more complex. Our three year old, in particular, is beginning to ask questions that prompt all of us to think and explore each book a little deeper. Where she used to just look at a page and label the colors, she now asks detailed questions about each character and the overall plot. This presents a fun challenge for our family, as we brainstorm to find new ways to enjoy and continue learning from her favorite stories. As we’re going through this process, we’ve found that we return to a handful of books again and again because we are drawn to the stories, the gorgeous illustrations, and the delightful conversations they spark with our daughters. I could write at length about all of our favorite children’s authors (Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Doreen Cronin, and on and on!), but for the sake of time, here is a very short list of books that have captivated our family of little artists!

BabyLit board books—The classics aren’t just for grownups! These sturdy little books serve as primers for numerous literary works such as Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes, The Jabberwocky, and many more. They are written by Jennifer Adams and beautifully illustrated by Alison Oliver. Our family has spent many afternoons counting our way through the BabyLit Pride and Prejudice, discussing opposites with Sense and Sensibility, and learning colors with Alice in Wonderland. These charming volumes have provided us with countless opportunities to discuss the larger works that inspired each book, and they have inspired me and my husband to study up on classic literature so that we can better answer our kids’ questions! Find the whole collection at the BabyLit website.

Mini Masters board books—This is a series of board books comprised of major works of art. Titles include Painting with Picasso, Quiet Time with Cassatt, A Magical Day with Matisse, and In the Garden with Van Gogh. The paintings are linked through lovely rhymes that tell a sweet story about each work. These books have prompted discussions about art, colors, textures, and emotions, and my girls are constantly finding new aspects of each painting that I had not noticed before. We have even found some “crossover” applications to other art forms. For example, the book Dancing with Degas has led my older daughter to ask a number of questions about ballet and folk dances, which usually springboards us into looking up YouTube videos of famous ballets. Most of the Mini Masters books can be found on Amazon.

Any collection of nursery rhymes—We have enjoyed Usborne’s Little Book of Nursery Rhymes, along with Classic Treasury: Nursery Rhymes. However, there are many other wonderful collections in print, and the content is generally the same throughout each volume. Nursery rhymes are an incredibly valuable resource for both children and parents for several reasons. First, nursery rhymes allow babies and children to develop an inherent sense of rhythm and meter. They are what music educators might refer to as “elemental”—simple, repetitive patterns that draw children in and invite them to experiment and improvise. Second, nursery rhymes spark the imagination! Poems like “The Owl and the Pussycat” or “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” evoke fantastic images that provide a framework in which children can then tell their own stories. Third, many rhymes, such as “The Lion and the Unicorn” carry cultural and historical significance that older children may enjoy exploring. Nursery rhymes also offer a world of possibilities for the parent. You can read them as a simple bedtime story, or you and your children can compose a clapping game or a melody to accompany the text. You can use the rhyme to inspire art with paints or clay, or you can even use the rhymes to create a themed snack time with your kiddos (such as the pie in “Little Jack Horner”). The possibilities are endless, for both parents and children! Nursery rhyme collections are easy to find at any book store, but it is also worth checking secondhand bookstores and yard sales for unusual editions that may now be out of print.   

 Children are natural artists, and any resource that provides the opportunity for imaginative play and literary exploration helps them to retain and refine their artistic instincts. Of course, there are many other lovely books that can be used as springboards to help children develop their sense of artistry, storytelling, and musicality as well, and we would love to hear your recommendations! Please feel free to share some of your favorite resources in the comments!

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