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Art and Music Books Can Inspire

Books about artists and composers usually give little insight into their creativity. They may lead eccentric lives, like Gauguin, who moved to Tahiti, but for most people, just the move would be the creative act, not the paintings that found their inspiration there.

Biographies, though, are useful to show how almost any background can be the basis of creativity and, mixed with reproductions of the artist’s paintings, can inspire anyone to do their own thing. Ticktock’s Essential Artists series for ages 9 to 12 provides large, glossy reproductions and surprisingly detailed texts about Manet and Gauguin ($6.95 each) that incorporate the times of the artist as well as his life.

Oooh! Picasso by Mil Niepold and Jeanyves Verdu (Tricycle Press, $14.95), for ages pre-school to 4th grade, uses six of Picasso’s sculptures to show how art can be made out of anything, such as a bull’s head from a bicycle seat and handlebars. The book uses bold colors on the pages and teases the reader with small parts of the sculpture before the whole is shown, emphasizing the details that might otherwise be overlooked.

The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert and Sullivan (Scholastic, $16.99), for ages 4 to 8, tells about the time Sullivan got sick and tired of Gilbert’s silly lyrics and repetitious plots, precipitating a crisis that ended up in their greatest work, The Mikado. It was still silly, but The Mikado made fun of Asian dictators and English confusion about foreign manners and practices while recounting the funny, lyrical and convoluted romance of Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum.


Song of Middle C (Candlewick, $16.99), for ages 4 to 8, will help anyone forced to play in a recital to anticipate improvising if a mistake mars the scheduled performance. Author Alison McGhee has perhaps a too-rosy view of the audience’s wild applause for improvising a new work to replace a botched assigned one, but she captures the monotony of practice and the performance anxiety that always go along with the preparation, regardless of the final result.

For ages 9 and up, Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz with 21 Activities (Chicago Review Press, $16.95) gives a thorough account of the great pianist, composer and band leader in the context of the Harlem Renaissance, Tin Pan Alley and the advent of LP records. Author Stephanie Stein Crease balances descriptions of the sophisticated shows at the Cotton Club in Harlem with activities such as designing costumes for the show or creating a plastic-jug tuba.

Creators’ biographies are certainly no substitute for seeing their paintings or hearing their music, but they do make the art more accessible by illuminating the people who brought the work to life.

Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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