painting, poetry, fashion…five guys making art

I’ve come across several outstanding picture book biographies of highly-gifted men working in a variety of art forms. That’s what I’ve got for you today!

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Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse, story by Alexandria Giardino, pictures by Felicita Sala
published in 2018 by Cameron Kids

This is such an elegant book!

ode to an onion giardino and sala

Inspired by Neruda’s poem, “Ode to the Onion,” the story narrates a day in the life of this poet, a day when his reflections and labors over a particular poem have blanketed him in melancholy.

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Neruda is meeting his sunny, effervescent friend Matilde for a lovely lunch, yet his gloom persists despite all her cheering efforts. Until he is struck by the beauty of a humble onion.

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Delicate onion skin pages at beginning and end encase the gorgeously-illustrated pages of this luminous story. Lavish line and color flood every page, while crisply written prose, almost like free verse, dances us through Neruda’s mood. The complete poem is included in both English and Spanish. A stunning little gem for ages 5 and up.

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Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art, written by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpré
published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf

Marc Chagall is a popular subject for children’s biographers. This is a stand-out among a number of picture books about his life and breathtaking art, beginning right off the bat with Grandpré’s richly ornamented, luscious endpapers!


Rosenstock is a veteran biographer and spins her approachable account with delicious, vivid descriptions of Chagall’s childhood home, the idiosyncratic villagers who inspired his early art, his new life in Paris, and the widely-varied, magical art he created. It’s a transfixing story that will easily reel children into his world.


Grandpré’s rich, deep color palette, her curving, soft, flowing portraits of town and field, peasant and artist, hovel and studio, imbue the pages with Chagall’s kindly, dreamy, imaginative creations. A beauty for ages 5 and up.

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Polka Dot Parade: A Book about Bill Cunningham, written by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Masha D’yans
published in 2018 by little bee books

I became acquainted with Bill Cunningham through a documentary about his life’s work as a street-fashion photographer.

polka dot parade blumenthal and d'yans

Initially a hatmaker, Bill apparently always had a keen eye for beauty, for line and flair and the “sheer poetry in the drape of an evening dress.” Working mainly on the streets of New York City, Bill clicked his shutter with only his own taste as a guideline, publishing his photos in the New York Times for forty years, elevating those whose fashion whims met his approval.

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This book treats Bill’s unique art with a delightfully light hand. The text waltzes and glimmers, the illustrations flounce and sashay with all the grace and outlandishness, verve and spangle of high fashion. A breezy treat, especially for kids who are drawn to their own unique style. Ages 6 and up.

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Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott
published in 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Thomas Cole was the founding member of what is known as the Hudson River school of painting, a style of portraying vast American landscapes which exalted their wild, pristine beauty and called attention to the vital realm of untrammeled nature.

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If you’ve stood before one of these giant canvasses, with their luminous skies and Eden-like qualities, you know just what I’m talking about.

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This intelligent, informative biography of one of our most famous American painters is timely, landing in the midst of important conversations about protecting the integrity of our earth, air, water, vegetation, animal and human life. Ages 6 and up.

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For Audrey with Love: Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, written and illustrated by Philip Hopman
first published in The Netherlands in 2016; English edition 2018 by NorthSouth Books

Audrey Hepburn and epic style go hand in glove. Her iconic images from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How to Steal a Million, and other classic films continue to captivate and inspire us although they are a half-century old!

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The designer of those fabulous dresses and gowns was Hubert Givenchy, who died just a year ago, in March of 2018, at age 91. This inventive book tells the parallel story of Hepburn and Givenchy as one grows up dreaming of ballet, then making her way into acting; the other following his passion for fashion from a young age.


For half the book, their stories are told in physically parallel form on the page, their life experiences running along the tops and bottoms of the pages. When these two finally encounter one another and Givenchy begins designing for her, the stories merge into one. Ingenuous.

for audrey with love Hopman

Although the star of the show is Audrey, it is Givenchy who crafted her timeless style behind the scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed this happy paean to their friendship and Givenchy’s talent, and the lithe, hip, illustration work that brings it alive. Ages 6 and up.