women’s history: with brush and song

I realize that for quite a few of us, our public libraries are now temporarily closed. (Pause for a moment of wailing!)
I don’t want to rub salt into wounds by posting lots of shiny new books that you can’t easily get your hands on!
But…my women’s history posts have all been in the hopper for awhile so…
…if your library is still open — cool! Grab these titles.
And if your library is closed — you can start your anticipatory list now.
We will never take libraries for granted again, right?!  What astonishing gifts they are!

A couple of years ago I wrote an extensive post on women artists.  At the time I did a thorough search of my library’s collection of picture book biographies and discovered that there are 1) not so many about women artists and 2) those that exist tend to cover a couple of women repeatedly.

So I was delighted to see two new compendiums emerge in 2019, both of which cover a lovely array of women in the art world, as well as several more splendid biographies of powerhouse female artists — visual artists and musicians — all perfect choices for Women’s History Month.

we are artists cover

We Are Artists: Women who Made Their Mark on the World, written and illustrated by Kari Herbert
published in 2019 by Thames & Hudson
143 pages

This book’s vibrant cover sets us up for an explosion of color inside. Not only are we stopped in our tracks by Herbert’s magnificent portraits of her 15 subjects, but there are 27 color reproductions of artworks and numerous spot art illustrations besides.  The whole package sings with energy and life.

we are artists Kari Herbert

Herbert’s selection is delectably diverse with artists from eleven countries, spanning various races and ethnicities.  All of them worked during the 20th century; two are still working.

we are artists2 Kari Herbert

Each short, engaging biographical sketch dips into some formative aspects of the artist’s life and explores how her art arises from her experience and perspective. A glossary of art terms, bibliography, and details of the reproductions are included. It’s a gorgeous, fascinating, high-quality book for ages 10 through adult.


Women in Art: 50 Fearless Creatives who Inspired the World, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky
published in 2019 by Ten Speed Press

This is another of Ignotofsky’s wonderful volumes cram-jammed with a surfeit of information, enticingly presented.

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The 50 women in this compilation also span the globe and are listed chronologically beginning with Guan Daosheng, a Chinese poet and painter who lived from 1262-1319, and concluding with Maya Lin, the American architect who has given us such iconic and meaningful structures over the past 40 years. The two-page spreads each feature a stylized portrait, artist’s quote, and fact-filled biographical sketch.

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Bonus items abound here as well with spreads devoted to principles of art and design, art tools, and stats revealing the discrepancies between men and women in the world of art.  Plus a timeline, fifteen more tiny snapshots introducing more women in art, and pages of books, websites, movies, videos, and lectures helping us head off to learn more.  Another brilliant resource for ages 10 to adult.


Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler, written by Elizabeth Brown, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro
published in 2019 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Helen Frankenthaler is a major American artist who experimented with painting techniques, producing important works within the Abstract Expressionist movement and Color Field style. I’m glad to see her story written for children.

dancing through fields of color2 Brown and Sicuro

This account follows her life of creativity from childhood on, tracing the roots and depth of emotion associated with her artwork, culminating with the inventive techniques she devised for applying paint to her fabulously large canvases.

dancing through fields of color Brown and Sicuro

It’s easily accessible, brimming with energy, whimsy, imagination, and sunny color, to ages 4 and up.

portrait of an artist frida kahlo cover

Portrait of an Artist: Frida Kahlo, written by Lucy Brownridge, illustrated by Sandra Dieckmann
published in 2019 by Wide Eyed Editions

I tend to veer away from biographies of people that I’ve already covered, and dear Frida has appeared in my blog already several times. However — I really like this biography so I broke my own rule.

frida kahlo illustration detail Sandra Dieckmann

One reason I especially love this one is the gorgeous artwork. Dieckmann has tapped into Frida’s rich color palette and incorporated the tropical plants Kahlo loved on every page. A number of Kahlo’s own paintings hang on the walls so that we absorb her artwork as we move along.

frida kahlo Brownridge and Dieckmann

The other reason I love it is the way Lucy Brownridge makes explicit connections between Kahlo’s life and her paintings. Besides the story of her life, we gain a bit more appreciation and understanding of her work.  The final pages of the book reprise each of the reproductions included in the story with short explanatory remarks. It’s a lovely introduction for ages 5 and up.

dancing hands cover

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Born in Venezuela in 1853, little Teresa took to music like bees to honey, playing the piano from an early age and composing music by age six.

dancing hands Engle and Lopez

Teresa was eight when her family was forced to emigrate to New York where she began performing in concert halls and wonder of wonders, was invited to the White House to perform for Abraham Lincoln.

dancing hands illustration Rafael Lopez

Such a jubilant, kindhearted, slice-of-life story, blooming with the tropical colors of Teresa’s homeland! Music truly can heal wounded spirits. Discover how Teresa did just that, then read about the rest of her musical career in the Historical Note. Ages 5 and up.

a voice named aretha cover

A Voice Named Aretha, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman
published in 2020 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!  Learn more of Aretha Franklin’s journey and increase your respect for the Queen of Soul.

a voice named aretha Russell-Brown and Freeman

This biography cruises through Franklin’s entire life story from her childhood in a preacher’s household filled with musical and civil rights icons, to her moment on the podium at President Obama’s inauguration.  From start to finish, Aretha’s life was one of song, and pain, and of using song to overcome pain. Bold and vibrant artwork fills these pages with Franklin’s presence, and lengthy Notes add to the biography. Ages 6 and up.

Coming up:

How come, though women have always been the ones birthing babies, farming the land, toting the water,
men decreed their bodies too frail for sports for such a long, long time?
Read about the women who said, “Phooey to that!” and ran, put the shot, bicycled, and muscled their way to freedom in next week’s women’s history installment.


This Saturday, I’ll be posting some Comforting Reads for all of us house-bound adults!
And laying out a plan for what’s forthcoming on Orange Marmalade
as I seek to come alongside those newly-homeschooling and in other ways caring for children in these unusual days.  Please come back and share these resources with anyone you think could benefit.

As always, you can find dozens of inspiring stories of women’s history in my list here.

Find more titles radiant with visual art here.
And more titles resounding with music here.