Got Art?: Infusing Art into Social Studies Content Areas

By Lizabeth Deskins and Christina Dorr

Elementary school through middle school

Supplement curricular areas and inspire budding writers and illustrators with these
high-quality books about art and artists.

In this content-driven era of education, there is still a place for high-quality books about art. The following titles would be a welcome addition to many curricular areas, including a study of cultures across the world or next-door. In addition, picture-book biographies of artists can provide a model for young writers or budding illustrators. Even books with art activities can demonstrate not only our differences but also our similarities over time and between cultures. Using these recent fiction and informational choices, students can experience art and begin to understand its place in history, culture, and time.

Books for Younger Readers

Can You Find It Inside? By Jessica Schulte. 2005. 32p. Abrams, $10.95 (9780810957947).
Gr. 2–4. Published in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this engaging book features rhymes that challenge readers to search for “hidden” items in a selection of paintings. While exploring these 13 works of art, children will discover a range of artists and a variety of styles. Also see Can You Find It Outside? (Abrams, 2005).

Can You Hear It? By William Lach. 2006. 40p. Abrams, $18.95 (9780810957213).
K–Gr. 3. Lach, a senior editor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, pairs reproductions of the museum’s masterpieces with selections of classical music, included on an accompanying CD. For each pairing, Lach suggests what to find in the art and what to listen to in the music, making strong connections between the sounds of instruments and the mental images that they may evoke.

Different like Coco. By Elizabeth Matthews. 2007. 40p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763625481).
Gr. 1–4. Clearly conveying Coco Chanel’s hard-working attitude and refusal to “know her place,” Matthews portrays the fashion designer’s rise from penniless orphan to successful entrepreneur. Exaggerated but simple illustrations accompany the text, and the endpapers feature Coco’s quotations; also included is a time line and a bibliography.

Dreamer from the Village: The Story of Marc Chagall. By Michelle Markel. ­Illus. by Emily Lisker. 2005. 40p. Holt, $16.95 (9780805063738).
K–Gr. 3. Markel’s picture-book biography introduces the reader to Chagall’s passion and exuberance, and Lisker’s illustrations pay homage to the artist’s luminous colors and dreamlike imagery. A brief author’s note and glossary of Jewish terms are included.

Elephants Can Paint Too! By Katya R. Arnold. 2005. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Anne Schwartz, $16.95 (9780689869853).
Gr. 1–3. As part of the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project, the art teacher in this photo-essay has unusual students—elephants! In side-by-side photographs, we see young people and young elephants in Thailand learning to paint and creating finished works of art. This book has the added benefit of showing how to help communities in other parts of the world.

I Am Marc Chagall. By Bimba ­Landmann. 2006. 40p. Eerdmans, $18 (9780802853059).
Gr. 2–4. Told in an intimate first-person voice loosely based on Chagall’s autobiography, this story traces the major influences on the artist’s work and time periods in his life. Brightly colored stylized collages have a dreamlike quality reminiscent of Chagall’s artwork. A time line is included.

Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin. By ­Michelle Lord. Illus. by Felicia Hoshino. 2006. 32p. Lee & Low, $16.95 (9781584302483).
Gr. 2–4. In this fictionalized picture book, Little Sap is a Cambodian child dancer who enchants the artist Rodin. He sketches her and two other traditional dancers, bringing honor to her and her family. Hoshino’s illustrations demonstrate the impressionist technique while including elements of folk art.

Look! Look! Look! By Nancy Elizabeth Wallace and Linda K. Friedlaender. Illus. by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. 2006. 40p. Marshall Cavendish, $16.95 (9780761452829). Also available in a video edition from Nutmeg Media.
K–Gr. 3. Featuring Wallace’s bright collage art, this picture book about art appreciation stars three mice that find a postcard of Robert Peakes’ Portrait of Lady Clopton. As they study it, they begin to see patterns, colors, lines, and shapes, leading them to create their own artworks. A glossary of basic art terms and directions for creating a portrait postcard are included.

Museum Trip. By Barbara ­Lehman. 2006. 32p. Houghton, $15 (9780618581252).
Preschool–Gr. 2. This wordless picture book cunningly expresses the joy and wonder of visiting an art museum and truly engaging with the art found there.

A Nickel, a Trolley, a Treasure House. By Sharon Reiss Baker. Illus. by Beth Peck. 2007. 32p. Viking, $16.99 (9780670059829).
Gr. 2–4. Based on a story told by the author’s grandfather, this poignant picture book relates how a young boy is inspired to become an artist after his teacher treats him to a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, worlds away from his early 1900s Lower East Side home.

Seen Art? By Jon Scieszka. Illus. by Lane Smith. 2005. 48p. Viking, $16.99 (9780670059867).
Gr. 2–5. With Smith’s whimsical illustrations, this slight story follows a little boy who encounters reproduced artworks at the Museum of Modern Art while searching for his friend Art. Brief notes on the works appear at the end.

Through Georgia’s Eyes. By Rachel Rodríguez. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. 2006. 32p. Holt, $16.95. (9780805077407).
K–Gr. 3. This picture-book biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, like her paintings, is simply and beautifully rendered. Paschkis’ cut-paper collages echo O’Keeffe’s own style, and the final page expands on the story to give a more standard, detailed account of the artist’s life.

Vincent’s Colors. By Vincent van Gogh. 2005. 48p. Chronicle, $14.95 (9780811850995).
Gr. 1–3. Published in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this striking book features beautifully reproduced paintings by van Gogh appropriately paired with quotations from his letters to his brother Theo. A complete list of the paintings and citations for the correspondence are included.

Vinnie and Abraham. By Dawn FitzGerald. Illus. by Catherine Stock. 2007. 32p. Charlesbridge, $15.95 (9781570916588).
Gr. 2–4. This picture-book biography presents Vinnie Ream, a young woman sculptor who lived in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, and who at 18 had daily modeling sessions with President Lincoln. For another story of a woman artist who played a role in American history, see Patience Wright: America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy by Pegi Deitz Shea (Holt, 2007).

Books for Middle Readers

Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter. By Susan Goldman Rubin. 2006. 48p. Abrams, $18.95 (9780810954779).
Gr. 4–7. On bright, eye-popping pages, Rubin presents a concise ­picture-­book biography of Warhol’s life. The design, featuring excellent reproductions of Warhol’s work, makes this an appealing introduction. A time line and a glossary are included. Also see the author’s Edward Hopper: Painter of Light and Shadow (Abrams, 2007).

Art Auction Mystery. By Anna Nilsen. 2005. 48p. Kingfisher, $17.95 (9780753458426).
Gr. 5–8. The author of Art Fraud Detective (Kingfisher, 2000) combines art appreciation, decoding skills, and computation in an art forgery game. Armed with suggestions for how to look for the forgeries, readers are called on to consider a catalog of 34 famous paintings, 16 of which are fakes about to go on the auction block.

A Book about Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Good. By Mark Gonyea. 2005. 144p. Holt, $18.95 (9780805075755).
Gr. 3–5. This simplified (but not simple) graphic design primer features brief chapters that present principles of composition, line, color, and contrast. Students creating posters or book covers will find many helpful tips. Also look for Gonyea’s Another Book about Design (Holt, 2007).

Cartoons and Animation. By Richard Spilsbury. 2007. 56p. Heinemann, $23 (9781403482877).
Gr. 4–7. This title in the Art off the Wall series covers the history of animation, technical and creative factors, prominent animators, and hands-on activities. With large color images of both familiar cartoon characters and animators at work, this lively survey includes a glossary and bibliography.

Drawing and Learning about Fashion: Using Shapes and Lines. By Amy Bailey Muehlenhardt. 2006. 24p. Picture Window, $16.95 (9781404811911).
Gr. 3–6. Beginning with an overview of drawing techniques and basic lines and shapes, this title in the Sketch It! series is a step-by-step guide to drawing classic and contemporary fashions from the 1920s to the 1990s. It concludes with a short bibliography.

Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts. By Alan Govenar. 2006. 96p. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763620479).
Gr. 5–8. Govenar’s photo-essay profiles Americans whose artistic endeavors help preserve the traditions of their ancestors, including making Mardi Gras costumes, weaving rugs, and singing Chinese opera. Readers will learn not only about each artist but also about the culture and history behind each art form.

Eye Magic: Visual Trickery in Art. 2005. 48p. Barron’s, $19.99 (9780764178696).
Gr. 4–7. Published in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this interactive book features artworks from a variety of cultures and eras that involve optical tricks, including pointillism, moirés, and more. Included are items such as a zoetrope drum and a Mylar sheet that will help readers explore the illusions.

Faces, Places, and Inner Spaces: A Guide to Looking at Art. By Jean Sousa. 2006. 48p. Abrams, $18.95 (9780810959668).
Gr. 5–8. Inspired by an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, this beautifully designed book explores how artists render expressions, environments, and emotions. Sousa moves from the concrete to the abstract in discussing the wide range of artworks, giving background, pointing out details, and asking probing questions. Notes, a glossary, and an index are included, and a bonus envelope contains removable materials for students’ own art projects.

Look Closer: Art Masterpieces through the Ages. By Caroline ­Desnoëttes. 2006. 64p. Walker, $18.95 (9780802796141).
Gr. 3–6. This exploration of beautifully reproduced masterpieces begins with the whole work, then invites the reader to take a closer look at the details. Lift the flaps and Desnoëttes reveals color palettes and asks probing questions. The final 18 pages feature further information about the primarily European artists, paintings, and time periods.

M Is for Masterpiece: An Art Alphabet. By David Domeniconi. Illus. by Will Bullas. 2006. 48p. Sleeping Bear, $17.95 (9781585362769).
Gr. 4–6. This alphabetical tour of art works on two levels—first as a story in poetic form, and second as nonfiction, with additional information in sidebars. It is a broad-based look at art that covers techniques, materials, famous works, and artists.

Paul Cézanne: A Painter’s Journey. By Robert Burleigh. 2006. 32p. Abrams, $17.95 (9780810957848).
Gr. 4–7. In this beautiful, oversize biography, Burleigh introduces Paul Cézanne through photographs and reproductions of his art and shows how art is a progression, flowing from one style into another (in Cézanne’s case, transitioning from expressionism to cubism to abstract art).

The Usborne Art Treasury. By Rosie Dickins. 2007. 96p. Usborne, $19.99 (9780794514525).
Gr. 4–7. Each art project in this attractive compendium begins with a particular work of art, and then explains the steps involved to create a similar piece of art, using the artists’ techniques. The included works vary in artist, style, media, and time period.


Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums. Selected by Lee Bennett ­Hopkins. Illus. by Stacey Dressen-­McQueen. 2007. 32p. Abrams, $16.95 (9780810912045).
K–Gr. 3. This collection of lively and rhythmic poems by contemporary poets is coupled with Dressen-McQueen’s vibrant artwork. Perfect to share with students before a museum field trip.

Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art. By Justine ­Rowden. 2005. 32p. Boyds Mills/Wordsong, $16.95 (9781590782897).
 Gr. 4–7. Rowden’s imaginative, accessible poems echo and blend with the style, mood, and tone of the paintings with which they are paired (all from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.). The brief artists’ notes at the end will extend the reader’s understanding.

Tour America: A Journey through ­Poems and Art. By Diane Siebert. Illus. by Stephen T. Johnson. 2006. 64p. Chronicle, $17.95 (9780811850568).
Gr. 4–7. After traveling the United States over a 10-year period, Siebert wrote this collection of poetry about the places she visited and things she encountered. Johnson’s illustrations range in medium from oil to watercolor to collage, and informational sidebars provide a geographical link.

Teaching Strategies

  • Choose a series of artists and have students investigate what was happening in the world at the time the artists were creating their art. Invite students to create an art history time line based on their research and explore how current events affect art that in turn affects history.
  • Choose several folk artists from diverse cultures to research. As students learn about these artists and their communities, have them create a “culture corner” in the classroom that demonstrates the importance of art in the history of a country and its culture.
  • Gather a collection of art books focusing on a particular artist or art style. Have students look through these books, choose a painting that touches them in some way, and write a poem to express those feelings. Older students may want to create a story that supports that feeling as well.

Series Connections

Art Explorers. By Joyce Raimondo. Watson-Guptill. Individual books, 48p., $12.95.
Gr. 3–6. In Express Yourself! Activities and Adventures in Expressionism, Raimondo chooses six expressionistic painters and features examples of their art, discussion questions, art activities for further exploration, and a brief biography of each artist. Other books in the series include Picture This! Activities and Adventures in Impressionism, Imagine That! Activities and Adventures in Surrealism, and Make It Pop! Activities and Adventures in Pop Art.

Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures. By Bob Raczka. Millbrook. Individual titles, 32p., $23.93; paper, $9.95.
K–Gr. 8. This wide-ranging series by veteran arts writer Raczka works on many levels and features middle-school titles such as Where in the World? Around the Globe in Thirteen Works of Art and Unlikely Pairs, as well as titles for younger children, including 3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet and More than Meets the Eye: Seeing Art with All Five Senses. With an open page design and high-quality reproductions, these books will help readers understand the importance of art and artists.

Come Look with Me. Charlesbridge. Individual books, 32p., $15.95.
K–Gr. 6. The interactive titles in the Come Look with Me series encourage children to learn biographical facts about artists and to look closely at the images and think about artistic decisions. Each spread features a beautifully reproduced image, a few paragraphs of information, and questions that require readers to examine each artwork. Titles include World of Play, Exploring Modern Art, Latin American Art, Animals in Art, and more.

Lizabeth Deskins has been a library media specialist for six years for Hilliard City Schools in Ohio, the 2006 winner of the American Association of School Librarians’ National School Library Media Program of the Year. Christina Dorr holds a Ph.D. in children’s literature and has been a library media specialist for eight years for Hilliard City Schools.