Given our connection to Literacyhead, it’s no surprise that we are partial to books that either use visual art to teach content or are simply about art. This has been a pleasantly surprising theme running through the Lerner books with which we are working. We describe three highlights, below, all of which are written by Bob Raczka for older, elementary students.
Here’s Looking At Me: How Artists See Themselves pairs a one-page, fifth-grade-ish reading level, biographical text with a self-portrait of a visual artist. Each two-page spread includes narrative text describing how the artist felt about him/herself on the left and a full page print of a self-portrait as a counterpoint on the right. There is natural interaction between the printed text and the image as text, which supports close reading as well as the integration of the two media. This book also lends itself to conversations about point-of-view (reading standard 6).
As a pure informational text with a serious dose of creativity infused, Name That Style: All About Isms in Art takes students through history to look at the different styles of art. Each two-page spread includes a full-page image of a piece of art in that style and a full page of text written in a consistent question/answer format. For each artistic style, the text addresses the following questions, which address pointillism in this example but vary to fit each style:
- What is Pointillism?
- When and where was pointillism popular?
- Who are some of the most famous Pointillist painters?
- What are some of Pointillism’s most important characteristics?
- Why is this (referring to picture on opposite page) a good example of Pointillism?
This book lends itself well to comparing and contrasting artist styles and, because it offers a survey of artistic styles, it could be helpful for identifying topics for further research. We think this is a great book for teaching CCSS writing standard 7, “research to understand,” as well as reading standards related to multi-media “texts,” citing evidence, and making connections between texts.
This MAGNIFICENTLY COMPLEX and CLEVER book presents imagined conversations between the author, Bob Raczka, and the subject of a Vermeer paining. The conversations are connected to each other, written in a reader’s theatre/script format, and include all kinds of historical references. One could read and reread this text in any instructional format (read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, etc.) and find something new in it every time. Again, multi-media, close reading, and text connection reading standards apply. The book also lends itself to great discussions about citing evidence, as the author’s imagined conversations are based on historical evidence and evidence in the artwork. The artwork in the book invites students to read the printed text closely and the printed text invites students to “read” the artwork closely. This book requires work to read but the figuring out of it is pure joy. Loveliness!
Bob Raczka also has a number of picture books about visual art that are well-suited for K-2 audiences (and could also hold some interest/appeal for upper elementary). Action Figures: Paintings of Fun, Daring, and Adventure simple lists action figures, such as “prizefighters,” “cattle drivers,” and “jet plane ejectors” and shows a painting of such a subject. Speaking of Art: Colorful Quotes by Famous Painters includes a quote and a related piece of art from about 20 famous visual artists. At the back of the book, there is a photograph of each artist a brief biographical sketch. Artful Reading presents a collection of artwork with subjects who are reading. The rhyming text simply lists all the places or ways one might read, such as “Read while you wait for your train to come in” and “Read by a window.” The Art of Freedom: how Artists See America shows a one-page illustration for the patterned sentence on each page that begins, “America is … . ” For example, “America is hard work.” is illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton’s painting, Cradling Wheat (1938). The vocabulary in this book is sophisticated with words like sacrifice, freedom, and marvels. In contrast to the simple format, this book has truly complex ideas in it, and could support discussion all the way into high school classrooms. Finally, No One Saw: Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist takes a simple text pattern and pairs it with a piece of art in exploration of the ways artists see everyday things. Again, there is much to talk about with this book, which reads, “No one saw apples like Paul Cezanne” and “No one saw soup like Andy Warhol.” No One Saw is particularly great for teaching point-of-view, which is implicitly addressed throughout the text and explicitly addressed on the last page, which reads “Artists express their own point of view. And nobody sees the world like you.”
In sum, integrating art into your reading and writing instruction makes the work both more engaging and more complex. These titles are among the best we’ve ever seen for exploring art visually and through words. If you took the first three texts together and made connections between them and then to the others on the list, the instructional possibilities seem virtually endless.