My Own Little Works of Art

Book Links Sept. 2008 (vol. 18, no. 1)

Step inside an innovative art series and discover how the author finds inspiration for each imaginative book.

By Bob Raczka

Preschool through middle school

This month, the tenth book in my ongoing series, Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures, will be published. Coincidentally, I was asked to write an article on the series for the September issue of
Book Links, so I thought I’d mark the occasion by sharing, as much as my memory allows, how I came up with the ideas for each of my 10 books.

I like to think of my books as my own little works of art. For me, it’s fun to come up with new ways to get kids interested in art, and I never seem to run out of ideas. My goals are simply to make art accessible and to make appreciating art fun. In my opinion, standing in front of a work of art and contemplating the thought and effort that went into it is one of life’s great joys. If I can pass along some of my enthusiasm for art through the following books, I’ll feel I’ve achieved something worthwhile.

No One Saw: Ordinary Things through the Eyes of an Artist
(Millbrook, 2002): I was walking to the train one morning, thinking about Georgia O’Keeffe, and I thought to myself, “No one saw flowers like Georgia O’Keeffe.” I liked the sound and the rhythm of that line, and I immediately wondered if I could say similar things about other artists. “No one saw stars like Vincent van Gogh” was an easy one. “No one saw Sunday like Georges Seurat” took me a bit more time. Once I had a long list, I decided to make the names rhyme. “Miro” and “van Gogh” rhymed perfectly. “O’Keeffe” and “Magritte” were close enough! (Preschool–Gr. 2)

Art Is . . .
(Millbrook, 2003): I don’t recall exactly how this book came about, but I do remember wanting it to rhyme like
No One Saw. I think I was messing around with definitions of art, and I came across an op art painting by Bridget Riley that consisted of repeating wavy lines. I thought, “Art is lines.” That’s the first thing that everyone draws as a toddler, right? Then I thought, “What’s the next step in drawing complexity?” Shapes, of course. So “Art is shapes” became the second line. The book kind of took off from there, with 23 definitions in all. (Preschool–Gr. 2)

More than Meets the Eye: Seeing Art with All Five Senses
(Millbrook, 2003): Still in a rhyming mood, I decided that my third book should be about paintings that you could “hear.” I think the idea was sparked by seeing David Hockney’s painting
A Bigger Splash. I have forgotten the original title of the book, but it was something like
Have You Ever Heard a Painting? I sent the dummy to my editor, Jean Reynolds, who said, “Why don’t you do all five senses? Then it would make a terrific curriculum book.” I ended up choosing five paintings to illustrate each of the five senses. (Preschool–Gr. 2)

Unlikely Pairs: Fun with Famous Works of Art
(Millbrook, 2006): I got the idea for this book from a museum poster advertising a sculpture exhibit. There were two sculptures on the poster: one of a man playing a banjo, the other of a group of people dancing. I loved how the juxtaposition of the two pieces caused them to interact, and I wondered if I could come up with enough pairs of artworks on my own to make a book. It took a lot of research, but I succeeded. I still love the original title,
Juxtaposers. I also love the fact that, other than its introduction, the book is wordless. (Gr. 1–6)

Here’s Looking at Me: How Artists See Themselves
(Millbrook, 2006): Believe it or not, this book started out as an ABC book. I wanted to create an alphabet of artists from
A to
Z, illustrated with their self-portraits. Predictably, I was stymied by the letters
Q and
Z. However, I had uncovered lots of interesting information about different artists and their self-portraits during my research, so I made a left turn and wrote my first longer-text art book (longer being one page of text for each artist instead of one sentence). (Gr. 3–6)

3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet
(Millbrook, 2007): I had always wanted to do an ABC book, and because the self-portrait idea mentioned above went in a different direction, I decided to give it another shot. I actually came up with the title first, fell in love with it, and then had to follow through with the book. Truth be told, I knew next to nothing about sculpture when I started, so writing this book was a real education for me. I also think it fills a need, because there are very few children’s books about sculpture. (Preschool–Gr. 2)

Where in the World? Around the Globe in 13 Works of Art
(Millbrook, 2007): I wanted to write a book about landscapes and needed a hook. At that time, I had been reading about the lack of geography education in schools, so using a world perspective in my book made a lot of sense, as did writing the book in the voice of a tour guide. And what’s a geography book without a good map? At the end, readers can follow “Raczka’s Route” on a world map. In terms of design, this may be my favorite book so far. (Gr. 3–6)

Artful Reading
(Millbrook, 2008): My children and I were playing the game Art Memory, in which players match pairs of famous paintings, when I noticed that several of the paintings featured people reading. Bingo! Book number eight was born, featuring 23 paintings of people reading. (Preschool–Gr. 2)

The Art of Freedom: How Artists See America
(Millbrook, 2008): I love that Grant Wood is associated with Iowa and Georgia O’Keeffe is associated with New Mexico. I tried to find an artist or work of art to represent each of the 50 states. When that idea didn’t work out, I thought I could do a book of paintings that illustrated the words to “America the Beautiful.” But then I found out that had already been done, so I asked myself, “What is America, anyhow?” Each of the works of art I gathered seemed to answer the question in its own way. (Preschool–Gr. 2)

Name That Style: All about Isms in Art
(Millbrook, 2008): There is nothing more confusing or intimidating than all the “isms” in art. Does anybody know what mannerism or abstract expressionism is? I thought, “I’ll do a book that explains all these ‘isms’ in terms that anyone can understand.” Easier said than done. Writing this book was a much-needed refresher course for me. I ended up explaining 14 popular styles using representative examples and a question-and-answer format. (Gr. 3–6)

There you have it—the ideas behind my first 10 books. If you’re wondering what 2009 will bring, keep an eye out for
The Vermeer Interviews: Conversations with Seven Works of Art (Millbrook), which is aimed at older kids and consists of “interviews” with some of Johannes Vermeer’s most popular paintings, including
The Milkmaid and
The Geographer. I’ll also be publishing
Action Figures (Millbrook), which is aimed at younger kids, especially boys, and consists of 18 action-packed paintings presented with short, rhyming text. I certainly hope you find these titles useful for sharing art in the classroom. And remember: if you wanna be smart, you gotta have art! 

Bob Raczka is a children’s author and an advertising writer. He lives with his wife, three kids, and a dog in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.