Portraits of the Arts
by Frank Lipsius
Where to begin describing the latest family-friendly books on the creative arts and artists? Why, at the beginning! Bob Spitz’s account of the Beatles’ history, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! (Little Brown, $18.98), starts with the fateful meeting of John and Paul at the first public performance of the Quarrymen on July 6, 1957.
Calling the coincidence of their meeting a “miracle,” Spitz roots his history of the group in that one afternoon when the teenagers started their life-changing journey. Beginning with comments from people who remember that first day, this well-researched, solid, picture-filled book traces the gradual expansion of the Beatles’ talent and captures their exuberance, which celebrated creativity over discipline.
Reading a book about music might seem a distant second best to hearing a CD or live performance, but sometimes the music is hard to find.
That’s the case with the swing music of World War II, especially as performed by women, the genre Tonya Bolden documents in Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII (Knopf, $18.99). Accompanied by a CD of the music it discusses, this book fills in a chapter of the era during which women took men’s roles and showed talents that, without the war, they would never have had a chance to develop.
In Black Cat Bone (Creative Editions, $19.95), J. Patrick Lewis has written and Gary Kelley has evocatively drawn the life of blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Robert Johnson. After recording only 29 songs, enough to make him the father of Delta blues, Johnson died at age 27. Lewis combines spare verse and stark prose to describe the sketchily known details of Johnson’s life, which consisted of itinerant playing on street corners and only two recording sessions.
Two new jazz books include CDs. One of them, Philly Joe Giraffe’s Jungle Jazz in the Baby Loves Music series (Price Stern Sloan, $7.99), tells the story of the local giraffe’s journey to a jam session before actually showing kids (on the CD) how to play a drum, whether on a table top or set. First the right hand, then the left, the lesson soon evolves into a sophisticated riff that leaves the lesson behind.
Leo and Diane Dillon’s Jazz on a Saturday Night (Blue Sky Press, $16.99) explains to older kids that jazz is an indigenous American form. The CD demonstrates the sound of instruments discussed in the book before letting the musicians riff their way to an engaging example of jazz on a Saturday night.
The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music (Little Brown, $18.99) does not include a CD, but author Bret Bertholf evokes the music with a comprehensive, engaging and funny history that is thoroughly immersed in the Nashville sound.
The book covers styles from honky-tonk and blue grass to crossovers and rockabilly, sprinkling good humor and lots of information throughout. The author identifies “five important subjects of country music: yer dog, yer mama, yer truck, a train and prison” and gives a sample lyric to get y’all started.
The hands-on approach to art scales new heights with Art Academy: Paint It (Silver Dolphin, $16.95), a real bargain for 8-year-olds and older. It includes five tubes of acrylic paint, two paint brushes one palette, tenn sheets of watercolor paper and sponge along with a 48-page book on modern art.
The Chihuly Art Kit (Portland Press, $28) aims at a younger crowd, 3 years and older, with watercolors and a book filled with supervised activity ideas. Chihuly uses his glass-blowing as a means for kids to explore shapes and colors with stickers and paint Appreciation and understanding of art comes in all shapes and sizes, often emphasizing the artist’s life.
Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter by Susan Goldman Rubin (Abrams, $18.95) goes through the life of Andy Warhol and the Campbell’s soup he had for lunch every day for 20 years.
Pass It Down: Five Picture-Book Families Make Their Mark by Leonard S. Marcus (Walker, $19.95) describes parent-and-child pairings of kids’-book artists who modeled for and inspired each other, including Philadelphia-born Jerry Pinkney and his son Brian.
John Singer Sargent inspired two authors to imagine how two of his works came about. Older kids will be drawn into the story of the four striking Daughters of Edward Darley Boit portrait. In The Janus Gate (Watson Guptill, $15.95), author Douglas Rees imagines Sargent’s rescue of the girls after receiving a fictional note, “Help us!”
Hugh Brewster takes his inspiration from the Sargent painting Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose (also the name of the book, Kids Can, $17.95). Brewster envisions the painting as the memoir of a young model for the painting who is supplanted by her older sisters. The book includes real photos of those involved. It gives a solid context for Sargent’s life and inspirations, which came both from models and other painters.
Because, by Mikhail Baryshnikov, with free-wheeling drawings by Vladimir Radunsky (Atheneum, $16.99), celebrates the sheer exuberance that inspires someone, even a grandmother, to be a dancer.
On the back jacket flap of their colorful and humorous book, the author and illustrator aver, “It makes no difference whether you are old or young, tall or short, skinny or plump, beautiful or not so beautiful…. Reveal your special talent to the world, and the world, without a doubt, will become a better place and life will be more fun.” Amen.
Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.