When kids learn about famous artists in picture books and narrative nonfiction stories, it helps readers remember the famous artists in a deeper way. Why? Because stories help us remember information, giving the artists a place in our background knowledge attached to a story.
This is why I love teaching children about great artists using narrative fiction and nonfiction picture books.
Here are our favorite children’s books about famous artists.
Picture Books About Famous Artists
Touch the Art: Make Van Gogh’s Bed by Julie Appel
Make Van Gogh’s Bed is a Touch the Art series touch and feel board book that introduces children to famous artists. I love it! Don’t miss the other titles in this series like Touch the Art: Pop Warhol’s Top, Touch the Art: Brush Mona Lisa’s Hair, and Touch the Art: Catch Picasso’s Rooster.
Matisse Dance with Joy by Susan Goldman Rubin
A simple picture book that expresses the feelings one could have while looking at a Matisse painting — “Sometimes I want to dance!” This board book is part of a series by Goldman Rubin, the others are Andy Warhol’s Colors, Magritte’s Imagination, Jacob Lawrence in the City, and Counting with Wayne Thiebaud.
If DaVinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold Introduce children to great artists like Grandma Moses, Mary Cassat, DaVinci, Qi Baishi, Alma Thomas, and so many more! I adore this book’s engaging illustrations showing the style of each famous artist. You’ll see Degas’ dinosaurs turning pirouettes, Matisse’s colorful paper dinosaurs, Warhol’s dinosaur soup, and even the Dino Lisa. Playful, relatable, and instructive.
If Picasso Painted a Snowman by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold
This creative book takes us through a tour of snowman art — more specifically, how 17 famous artists would paint a snowman — from Lichtenstein to Monet to van Gogh. All the snowmen are painted in a different style and set in different settings. Use this book to inspire your own snowman painting AND become more familiar with these famous artists’ styles.
Portrait of an Artist: Frida Kahlo by Lucy Brownridge, illustrated by Sandra Dieckmann
I’m impressed with the way the author shares the most important information about Kahlo, one of my own favorite artists. Read how Kahlo likes to paint herself and how she paints her feelings and her reality with symbolism. A lovely introduction to this brilliant, iconic artist from Mexico.
The Stories of the Mona Lisa: An Imaginary Museum Tale about the History of Modern Art by Piotr Barsony
Open this book and you’ll be engrossed from the first page. You’ll see the Mona Lisa re-imagined from the artistic style of modern-day painters (Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Picasso, Bacon, Pollock, and others) with famous styles such as cubism, expressionism, fauvism, impressionism, minimalism, surrealism. It’s really cool!
The Noisy Paint Box; The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Vasya Kandinsky was a proper but bored Russian boy until his aunt gave him a paint box. The paint whispered to him so he painted the sound of colors. For a time, Vasya ignored his paints since being an artist wasn’t considered proper. Luckily for us all, he returned to his calling, painting abstract art.
Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt
Anholt masterfully brings Leonardo da Vinci to life through the eyes of a young boy named, Zoro, his apprentice. In this story, Zoro watches as da Vinci invents a flying machine. And, Zoro just can’t resist giving it a little test. It’s a delightful story told in comic form that will fascinate young readers. (Don’t miss Anholt’s other artist picture books like Camille and the Sunflowers.)
Cezanne’s Parrot by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Cezanne works slowly and is different than the other artists of his day. Yet he persists doing art in his own way. Throughout his struggles, he tries to get his parrot to say, “Cezanne is a great painter.” And eventually, people see his artwork and say, “Cezanne is a great painter.” The color palette and technique of the illustrations set a Cezanne-ish mood as if they were his actual paintings.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
Mexican artist Don Lupe published short funny poems about skeletons and drew lithographs and skeleton etchings or engravings. His calaveras (skeleton pictures) showed different types of people and usually had a political or social message. They’re now iconic images for the celebration el Dia de Los Muertos. The artwork and graphic layouts perfectly complement this informative history.
Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
Henri’s artistic life started with painting but transformed into paper-cutting when he was confined to a wheelchair. Another excellent book about Henri Matisse is The Iridescence of Birds.
Mary Blair’s Unique Flair: The Girl Who Became One of the Disney Legends by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Brittney Lee
Mary Blair’s life as an artist took her to Disney where her paintings captured the magic on paper. In fact, she created the concept art for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan as well as designed the “It’s a Small World” attraction at Disneyland. She used her endless imagination to creatively pair unique colors, an emerald world, a fuchsia sea, or a turquoise moon, and create happily ever afters. Her story sparkles just like the luminous mixed-media illustrations which include colorful cut-paper artwork.
Yayoi Kusama: Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry by Fausto Gilberti
Written in the first person and illustrated with bold black and white illustrations, you’ll learn about one of the most famous living artists, a creative Japanese woman who loves dots and pumpkins and social justice.
Meet the Artists: The Pre-Raphaelites: An Art Activity Book by Helena Perez Garcia
Not only is the art history fascinating but also includes fun, interactive prompts for children such as drawing flowers to match themes or draw a portrait of someone you know. The book features artists and writers such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Christina Rossetti. It’s readable, informative, and engaging.
Meet the Artist Frank Bowling An Art Activity Book by Helene Baum and Zoe Whitley
This is a two in one book — it’s a biography and an activity book without art activities that help kids understand the art of Frank Bowling. It’s fascinating and engaging.
Modern Art Explorer by Alice Harman, illustrated by Serge Bloch
I love the conversational narrator who makes the information about the artwork interesting and relatable. Regarding the Bicycle Wheel, the author writes, “Can you believe it? Someone’s dumped a pile of junk in the middle of this art gallery…That’s what Marcel Duchamp wanted people to feel like. He was trying to show us that anything could be art and anyone could make it.“
Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol by James Warhola
The nephew of Andy Warhol is the author of this story. He shares about the fun visits to Uncle Andy in NYC where he gets to see how his uncle transforms junk into art.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, illustrated by Tim O’Meara
This could qualify as a beginning reader book with its stark language first in English and then Spanish. The art is so unique with a mixture of dolls, painting, and digital additions. Kids will learn very little about Frida Kahlo but it’s still a lovely introductory biography book.
Mornings with Monet by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Granpre
Descriptive, sensory writing shows Money waking up early, getting in his boat, and traveling down the river. He waits for the light and then he paints. “A few rays breakthrough; wet leaves droop over winding water.” His efforts and process will show aspiring artists what goes into a master’s painting. Well-written and lovely. “More blue, less violet, some yellow. More reflections, less mist, some horizon. His brush moves back and forth, chasing sunlight.”
Me, Frida by Amy Novesky
I went through a big Frida phase after living in Puebla, Mexico for two summer semesters. Her story is so intriguing, as is her art and Diego Rivera’s as well. This story shares how Frida adapted to San Francisco and learned to go after her dream of painting like her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera.
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schultz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
You’ll enjoy this inspirational picture book biography about artist/cartoonist Charles Schultz. Little Charles, nicknamed Sparky, adores his super-smart dog named Spike who drinks from the bathroom sink and knows more than 50 words and will be featured in all Sparky’s drawing as a dog named Snoopy. Sparky also loves comics and drawing. Despite worries that he is not good enough, he gets his first published drawing is in the Sunday comics when he’s still a child. Charming, lovely illustrations from Dan Anderson make this book framable.
My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter
Georgia always followed her own path from childhood then to adulthood. She moved to New Mexico where she painted all day.
Magic Trash by J.H. Shapiro, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This is the true story of artist Tyree Guyton who made his own crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood into an urban canvas in the 1980s. His grandfather told him to “paint the world” and that’s exactly what Guyton did using houses, trash, found objects, and more. As a result, Guyton created magic and healing for the community. Read more at the Heidelberg Project website.
When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden
“There once was a young pig named Pigasso” the story begins. Pigasso painted in a most unusual way. “At the same time, there once was a young bull named Mootisse” who painted “big, bold, bright pictures.” In this funny tale, the two artists are neighbors who dislike each other’s art — until one day. This brightly illustrated picture book will entertain and delight your kids — we think it’s hilarious.
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay Haring What was Keith like as a boy? His mom writes that he drew all the time. And grew up to become a passionate, famous artist.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Horace loved to draw. In fact, he liked to paint exactly what he saw. Even after a wound in WWI prevented him from using his right arm, he began painting as an adult again. Those paintings are now hung in museums.
Katie Meets The Impressionists by James Mayhew
We first found this picture book at the library when AJ was 3 or 4 and I was so disappointed that I couldn’t order it because it was out of print. The Katie books are a series where Katie visits a museum with her grandmother and steps into a picture and has a grand adventure. You can still order the books from a used bookstore but I hope that one day they’ll publish these books about Katie meeting famous artists again.
Monet Paints a Day by Julie Danneberg
In this biography, follow Claude Monet as he walks through the town to the ocean where he paints. Illustrated in impressionistic watercolors, this is a sweet and simple depiction of what Monet’s life must have been like.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
This book won the Caldecott award for illustration in 2017. The illustrations are painted (and collaged) on found wood and are EPIC! You could frame every single page! The story is about the sometimes challenging young life of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel
Did you know that Henri Rousseau started painting at 40 years of age and it took years for anyone else to believe his art was any good? While I’m not a huge Rousseau fan, I love that this story shows his perseverance to create art; art that now hangs in museums.
The Cat and the Bird: A Children’s Book Inspired by Paul Klee by Geraldine Elschner and Peggy Nille
I learned about The Cat and the Bird on a fantastic blog called Deep Space Sparkle, art lessons for kids. Visit her blog and see how she used the picture book to teach warm and cool colors.
Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Mira brightens up her world with her colorful paintings. Not only that, she inspires everyone to paint the city walls with colorful murals.
Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott
While I wouldn’t call this story particularly compelling, this picture book biography is a decent introduction to the American artist Thomas Cole. It starts with his early life leading into how he eventually became a successful landscape artist.
Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Björk and Lena Anderson
Linnea travels with her friend, Mr. Bloom, to Paris where she learns about Claude Monet and Impressionism. They visit museums with Monet paintings and the sites he painted: his garden, the famous Japanese bridge, and the sunrise over the Seine. This scrapbook-like book is filled with full-color Monet paintings, old photographs, and notes throughout the story.
Anholt’s Artists Activity Book by Laurence Anholt
If your child loves art, run to the store and buy this amazing picture book that is half famous artist biography and half activity book. We learn about Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Monet, and Cezanne and try art activities that imitate each of the artists’ styles. Anholt’s books are perfect for introducing great artists to children!
Degas Painter of Ballerinas by Susan Goldman Rubin
What a lovely narrative story about Degas’s life and artistic process. Each page of the story includes another full-color Degas artwork which almost always takes up more than one page, stretching onto the opposite page in a mesmerizing presentation. Beautiful writing which is clearly well-researched makes this the quintessential Degas biography for children. I highly recommend this book!
Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler by Elizabeth Brown, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro
Helen didn’t like following the rules in art. She experimented with mediums and colors on her own but still followed the rules in her classes. After college, she met Jackson Pollock who broke the rules with success which reminded her that she could do the same thing.
Pencils, Pens and Brushes: A Great Girls’ Guide to Disney Animation by Mindy Johnson, illustrated by Lorelay Bovi
Learn about some of the incredible women who worked at Disney’s animation from writers to artists to animators to researchers. Each biography skillfully captures the woman’s story, where she started, her passions, her education, and how she came to work for Disney as well as what she worked on while at Disney.
We Are Artists: Women who Made Their Mark on the World by Kari Herbert
I’m loving this book so much — it shares with well-written biographies (about 3- 5 pages for each woman) about so many female artists from different countries, each with their own unique style and life experience. From Yayoi Kusama of Japan to Alma Thomas of the U.S. to Amrita Sher-Gil of India and Hungary, discover incredible, passionate artists with long-lasting influence.
The Ultimate Art ins by Ferren Gipson
WOW — this is the MOST impressive, well-organized, and beautifully designed art history book for children that I’ve EVER read. It’s a curated book that takes children chronologically through 18 galleries from geographical regions and cultures such as the Far East, Ancient Egypt, Medieval Europe, and Byzantine period. Colorful borders and design, photographs and paintings with descriptions. Gorgeous — I highly recommend this incredible book!
Why Is Art Full of Naked People? by Susie Hodge
My 11-year-old, artistically-inclined daughter thinks this is the BEST book! In fact, she says it’s been much better than this year’s not-so-great art teacher at her school. You’ll find out so many useful facts to questions you probably didn’t even know you had such as: Why is everything blurry? Do artists copy each other? Why is art so expensive? This book takes common kid questions and helps children understand and appreciate art in a deeper way. Very interesting!! I’m glad we own it.
What are your favorite picture books about famous artists?
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