We’re spotlighting a group of terrific new picture book biographies for young readers that focus on the lives of three outstanding artists. Their stories prove that while the path to achievement is often indirect, with perseverance, anything is possible.
RISE OF A ROCK ICON
Michael Mahin’s When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana (ages 4 to 8) provides an intriguing look at the life of the Mexican-American guitar whiz known as Santana. Following in the footsteps of his violin-playing father, young Carlos longs to be a musician. His father’s violin produces “a sound that made angels real,” and Carlos, seeking to replicate its effect, moves through a range of instruments, finally connecting with la guitarra. During his teenage years in 1960s San Francisco, Carlos encounters new sounds and influences, including the Beatles and B.B. King, which he synthesizes into what becomes his signature Latin-rock style. With the formation of the Santana Blues Band, his musical dreams come true. Mahin mixes Spanish terms into a narrative that’s fact-filled yet poetic, and José Ramírez’s folk-art inspired illustrations provide the perfect complement to the text. This an accessible and appealing introduction to a game-changing guitarist.
VISIONS OF THE U.S.
Hudson Talbott chronicles the life of a groundbreaking painter in Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art (ages 6 to 8). As a young lad in his native Britain, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) roams the countryside, making sketches from nature. In 1818, he and his family immigrate to America, eventually settling in New York, and his interest in art solidifies. Encouraged by a patron, Cole explores the wilderness of his adopted home. A boat trip up the Hudson River provides him with the inspiration for grand, expansive landscape paintings and inaugurates a new art movement, characterized by a spirit of inquiry and exploration, known as the Hudson River School. Talbott has written a fascinating account of Cole’s career, and his gorgeous watercolor illustrations do their subject justice. At once entertaining and instructive, this lovely biography is just right for young readers with artistic aspirations.
PASSION FOR FASHION
An esteemed photographer who documented New York City’s street-fashion scene for almost four decades, Bill Cunningham died in 2016 at the age of 87. Deborah Blumenthal tells his story in the delightful Polka Dot Parade: A Book About Bill Cunningham (ages 4 to 8). A Boston native, Cunningham made hats for a time before turning to photography—an art he taught himself. Exploring Manhattan by bike, he captured the city’s fashion-forward inhabitants with his camera, and his snaps appeared regularly in the New York Times. Cunningham’s instinct for fashion earned him acclaim and honors, including the Legion of Honor from the French government. Masha D’yans brings Cunningham and his sartorially splendid subjects to vivid life in whimsical watercolor illustrations. This loving tribute is the perfect way to acquaint a new generation with Cunningham’s contributions to the culture of couture.