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One for You, and One for Me: Reading Side by Side - Twentieth-century Visual Arts Edition

The book covers of Frida in America and Viva Frida next to each other on a couch

There are many wonderful books produced for children and young adults featuring well-known artists. We’ve paired them here with adult titles so that you and your child can all look, learn, and read together. Our list highlights titles at multiple reading levels about different well-known twentieth-century artists, making them perfect for reading together or reading side by side.

Reading side by side reinforces the idea that reading is an important activity and, like storytimes and read-alouds, promotes literacy in young readers. When young readers see adult role models reading, it makes a deep impression.

Encouraging young readers to talk about what they have read or have seen in works of art sends the message that their opinion is valued, and at the same time builds critical thinking and narrative skills. When looking at the illustrations and art in these books, you can start with a question like, “what do you see?” or “what do you notice?” Then, ask your child to elaborate on their answer, with questions like: “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Does this remind you of anything you’ve seen before?”, “How or why do you think the artist made this?”, “If this work of art could talk, what would it tell us?”, Or “what title or name would you give this piece?” You can also play guessing games based on what you are seeing, by asking who or what is the subject or setting, or by creating a background story for what you think is going on.

Try these books to practice reading side by side and encouraging your young reader to discuss their ideas about stories and art.

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) created some of the most-recognizable works of modern art, and is noted for his monumental public sculptures.

For young readers we recommend:
Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone (suggested for grades 1-3)
The Calder Game by Blue Balliet (suggested for grades 5-8)
For adult readers we recommend:
Calder: The Conquest of Time, The Early Years, 1898-1940 by Jed Perl
Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy by Lynne Warren

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a Mexican artist inspired by the folk arts, ecology, and popular culture of Mexico. She is best-known for her many portraits and self-portraits.

For young readers we recommend:
Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown (suggested for PreK-grade 2)
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales (suggested for PreK- grade 3)
Who was Frida Kahlo? by Sarah Fabiny (biography, suggested for grades 3-7)
Frida and Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef (suggested for grades 7 and up)
For adult readers we recommend:
Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist by Celia Stahr
Frida Kahlo: A Biography by Claudia Schaefer

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was an American photographer and filmmaker, as well as writer and composer. His fascinating photographs covered a wide-ranging of subjects from Parisian fashion to Civil Rights events and were prominent features in Life and Vogue magazines.

For young readers we recommend:
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford (suggested for grades 1-3)
Gordon Parks: No Excuses by Ann Parr (suggested for grades 3-6)
For adult readers we recommend:
Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950 by Philip Brookman
The Photographs of Gordon Parks by Gordon Parks (Library of Congress)
To Smile in Autumn: A Memoir by Gordon Parks

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) is well-known for his art depicting African American history and culture. His famous Migration Series traces the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to the Northeast, Midwest, and West.

For young readers we recommend:
Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (suggested for PreK- grade 2)
For adult readers we recommend:
Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series by Leah Dickerman
African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond edited by Richard J. Powell and Virginia M. Mecklenburg (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a central figure in the American Pop Art movement. His paintings, prints, sculptures, writing, and films played a major role in blurring the traditional distinctions between fine art and commercial art.

For young readers we recommend:
Who was Andy Warhol? by Kirsten Anderson (suggested for grades 3-7)
Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter by Susan Goldman Rubin (suggested for grades 5-9)
Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg (suggested for grades 6-10)
For adult readers we recommend:
Warhol by Blake Gopnik
The Andy Warhol Diaries by Andy Warhol, edited by Pat Hackett

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) is a versatile artist working in many media and as a performance artist. Her pieces focus on themes of civil rights, art history, and feminism. Ringgold’s “story quilts,” as seen in the illustrations of her picture book Tar Beach, use textile arts combined with painting to create visual narratives.

Picture books illustrated and written by Faith Ringgold include (suggested for grades 1 and up):
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
Tar Beach
Cassie’s Word Quilt
Harlem Renaissance Party
We Came to America

For young readers we also recommend:
Faith Ringgold by Mike Venezia (biography, suggested for grades 3-5)
Women in Art: 50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World by Rachel Ignotofsky (suggested for grades 6 and up)
For adult readers we recommend:
Black Refractions: Highlights from the Studio Museum in Harlem by Connie H. Choi

Maya Lin (b. 1959) is the American sculptor, architect, landscape and furniture designer who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.

For young readers we recommend:
Women Artists A to Z by Melanie Labarge (suggested for PreK - grade 2)
Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin (suggested for grades 6-10)
For adult readers we recommend:
Maya Lin: Topologies by Maya Lin, foreword by John McPhee

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was an American painter and collage artist with a distinct personal style. He drew inspiration from art history, literature, and street art for his work.

For young readers we recommend:
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (suggested for grades 1-5)
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat (suggested for PreK- grade 2)
For adult readers we recommend:
Basquiat: A Graphic Novel by Paolo Parisi
Jean-Michel Basquiat edited by Dieter Buchhart (exhibition catalog)

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