Recent children’s books about female artists can inspire readers of any age. From Ukrainian-born designer Sonia Delaunay and Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid to Americans Georgia O’Keefe, Dorothea Lange, and Cindy Sherman, these women demonstrate that vision, accompanied by perseverance, hard work, and independence, can take girls where they want to go — even into the pages of a picture book.
Cara Manes, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Antwerp-based illustrator Fatina Ramos created this jewel-hued, child-friendly book to introduce young readers to the work of painter and textile designer Sonia Delaunay, and more broadly, to the way colors convey feeling. Rather than approach the book as a biography, Manes’s story follows Delaunay on an imaginary drive she takes with her son Charles to show him “the sounds of colors” that inspired her work. The journey takes them from a nightclub in Paris to a street market in Portugal, and finally to a fabric shop in Amsterdam. Included are examples of Delaunay’s own paintings, whose colors are echoed in Ramos’s illustrations.
Zaha Hadid persevered in architecture despite trouble getting her unconventional, award-winning designs built. “Hadid means iron in Arabic,” Jeanette Winter writes. “she keeps on working – one plan after another." Winter’s illustrations show how the natural forms Hadid saw as a child in Baghdad inspired her swirling, asymetrical style. As Hadid says, “the beauty of the landscape – where sand, water, reeds, birds, buildings and people all somehow flow together – has never left me.” Hadid’s strong, intelligent features and layered, cement-grey clothes make Winter’s point clear: girls don’t need to be pretty in pink to star in picture books. It’s all about the work.
This little book, sized perfectly for tucking into a travel bag, introduces children to the work of American artist Georgia O’Keefe, whose desert landscapes, painted near her home in New Mexico, became part of the iconography of the American West. A few of her works are reproduced here, but what makes the book so intriguing are the almost-blank pages on which readers are instructed to create their own work using elements or approaches inspired by O’Keefe’s example. Illustrator Marina Munn presents visual games of perspective, abstraction, rhythm, and color value so accessibly that even a very young child would enjoy them—though so too could a reader of any age.
“More than a photographer, she was a storyteller with a camera,” Carol Boston Weatherford writes about Dorothea Lange, whose 1930s photos of Americans in migrant camps and on city street corners revealed the suffering brought on by the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Sarah Green’s elegant, gouache-like illustrations show Lange, intrepid and resourceful, exploring the country alone in slacks and saddle shoes. Her art had the effect of advocacy: after newspapers published her picture of a hungry-looking migrant family, “the government rushed ten tons of food to the camp” where they lived.
Sherman, a Long Island native, created an art form from the selfie before digital cameras existed, and has gone on to become one of the best known, and best paid, contemporary photographers in America — she was the first woman anywhere to sell a photograph for a million dollars. Like a child on Halloween, Sherman uses makeup and costumes to explore cultural clichés, narratives and identity, so she’s a great topic for young readers. Having said that, a few of the self-portraits are quite spooky, so Greenberg and Sandra Jordan pitch this book for older children and teenagers.
Meet Cindy Sherman
is a fascinating, detailed introduction to her life story and work, and offers a primer in the nuances of art interpretation that adults are likely to enjoy, too.