Holidays are on the horizon and we’ll definitely be making the most of the full days to visit a few museums and art galleries. To get our eye in, we’ve recently been really enjoying The Interactive Art Book by Ron van der Meer and Frank Whitford.
As you’ll see if you take a look at this video of the book, it’s a non-fiction pop-up book extraordinaire! With flaps and fold outs, models to make, 3D glasses to wear, transparencies, mosaic pieces to play with AND its own additional activity book included, this has been an exciting, very hands-on read for all of us.
It’s perfect for dipping in and out of, with short paragraphs about different pieces of art illustrating various topics (including “Light and Colour”, “Movement” and “Pattern and Composition”) accompanied by lots and lots of reproductions, primarily of paintings, but also including sculpture, illustration and architecture.
With all its moving and loose pieces, this perhaps isn’t a book for libraries, but I highly recommend it to all families; adults and children alike will learn a lot from this book at the same time as having lots of fun.
Last year I published a list of 60+ Children’s books featuring museum artefacts on public display around the world. Today, as our response to The Interactive Art Book, I bring you its companion piece: 90+ publicly displayed masterpieces of art which feature in children’s books. These are not books about art or artists in general, nor are they nonfiction, but rather story books which feature a specific piece of art (or more) on public display somewhere in the world.
As many books feature multiple pieces of art, it has been impossible to sort my list by location, but if you’re going to be visiting a gallery over the summer do search for it on this page to see if there are any books listed today featuring art from that gallery.
The Great Wave: A Children’s Book inspired by Hokusai written by Veronique Massenot, illustrated by Bruno Pilorget is a beautiful book inspired by the woodblock print known as The Great Wave. Copies of this print are held in several galleries around the world, including The British Museum in London (though it is currently not on display), The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Sackler Gallery in Washington DC.
Whilst not a book about a specific piece of art, fans of children’s picture books may particularly enjoy the family trail created by none other than Oliver Jeffers, for the National Portrait Gallery in London. The trail includes many illustrations by Jeffers and can be downloaded from the NPG’s website.
A book which doesn’t strictly fit my criteria for today’s list (story books about real pieces of art/art galleries) but which I’d also like to mention is Tell me a Picture by Quentin Blake, “an alphabetical anthology of pictures with stories in mind,” chosen primarily from London’s National Gallery’s collection, including:
and also the following pictures in other collections:
There’s an accompanying DVD to go with the book, and you can view an excerpt here.
You can’t take a balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman is a wordless picture book including references to the following pieces of art on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith also turns out to feature many pieces of are in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, including:
Little Ballerina: A Children’s Book Inspired by Edgar Degas, written by Hélène Kérillis, illustrated by Lucie Albon is inspired by Edgar Degas’ masterpiece, The Rehearsal of the Ballet on Stage.
You can see the original piece of art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Journey, written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small features Monet’s Haystacks which is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. An Amish girl, along with two adult companions, visits Chicago and on her final day in the city and is particularly moved by this piece of art which she sees in the Art Institute.
In The Peaceable Kingdom, written by Ewa Zadrzynska, illustrated by Tomek Olbinski , the sudden appearance of a lion, leopard, and wolf in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden surprises early morning visitors. The wild beasts’ benign demeanour baffles the mayor, reporters, policemen, and professors. Finally, a little boy and his older sister solve the mystery of the animals’ origin – they have escaped from Edward Hicks’s painting of The Peaceable Kingdom, which hangs in the nearby Brooklyn Museum.
Vermeer’s A Lady Writing and The Geographer are pivotal in Blue Baillet’s novel Chasing Vermeer. The former is on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The Geographer is part of the collection of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut museum in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Mona Lisa, on view at the Louvre in Paris, has inspired several stories. There’s James Mayhew’s Katie and the Mona Lisa, Who stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Pat Hutchin’s The Mona Lisa Mystery, Mademoiselle Lisa by Delphine Perret, and even Art Dog by Thacher Hurd, Thacher. Do you know of any others?
Where is the Frog? by Geraldine Elschner, illustrated by Stephane Girel is based on the series of water lily paintings by Claude Monet, whose permanent home is Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Similarly, Philippe in Monet’s Garden by Lisa Jobe Carmack is inspired by the same set of paintings.
Journey on a Cloud: A Children’s Book Inspired by Chagall by Veronique Massenot, illustrated by Elise Mansot focuses on Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (The Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower), which is on display at Musee National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou.
Anthony Browne’s Willy’s Pictures includes references to these pieces of art:
Leonardo’s Horse is a piece of sculpture on view at the Hippodrome de San Siro in Milan, Italy, with another copy on view in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to created this sculpture but never completed it. Leonardo’s Horse by Jean Fritz, illustrated by Hudson Talbott tells the tale of how this sculpture did finally get made, centuries after da Vinci’s death..
Pieter Breugel’s painting The Hunters in Snow provides the basis for A Bird in Winter by Hélène Kérillis, illustrated by Stéphane Girel. Breugel’s painting is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna.
Squeaking of Art: The Mice Go to the Museum by Monica Wellington makes reference to over 70 pieces of art on view in various galleries around the world, including:
Marc Franz’s Blue Horse was the inspiration behind Eric Carle’s fairly recent picture book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse. Franz’s painting can be seen in the Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. You can listen to an NPR documentary about Eric Carle’s relationship to this painting here.
I’m running out of time (and you must be running out of puff if you’re still with me this far down the post!) but here are some other books which I believe feature art on public display in various galleries around the world:
Any such list like this has to mention E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – essential reading if you’re visiting the Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York.
If you’re in or going to Canada, the wordless picture book, Picturescape by Eliza Gutierrez shows lots of “masterpieces of 20th-century Canadian art” which are on display in the Vancouver Art Gallery. The book, however, does not list the individual pieces of art.
If you’re going to Italy Gillian Avery’s The Italian Spring includes a lot about visits to the art galleries of Venice. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy to check exactly which pieces of art/galleries are mentioned, but if you know, please let me know!
I would love to see a copy of Jan Pienkowski’s Botticelli’s Bed and Breakfast. This astonishing wordless pop-up book features 54 art masterpieces, though I haven’t been able to find a list of exactly which paintings are included.
Finally, there are two series which are essential reading for anyone interested in how art is explored in children’s books: James Mayhew’s Katie series, and Catherine and Lawrence Anholt’s Artist series. Both series are amazing and feature many pieces of art on public display. Next year sees the 25th anniversary of the first Katie book, Katie’s Picture Show.
GOODNESS! This has been a mammoth post! I hope you’ve found something to enjoy in it. Why not contact your local art gallery and ask if they have any paintings on display which were inspired by books, or if they know of any books inspired by paintings in their collection?
In compiling this list today I’d like to thank members of the Jiscmail CHILDREN-LITERATURE-UK list and the Rutgers Child_Lit list for their suggestions. In particular I’d also like to thank @chaletfan for her information ninja powers, and Jane Heinrichs for helping me with the list of art featured in her book.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Interactive Art Book from the publishers. I was not obliged to review it, nor did I receive any payment for this post.