STEAM Picture Books: Art

In this new monthly STEAM series, I will highlight some wonderful picture books that fall under a STEAM category: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. For the month of February we will be reviewing art books that celebrate African Americans. In celebrating Black History Month we will review graphic novels, picture books on art, poetry, hip-hop, dance, music, and learn about one of the most important moments in history: the Harlem Renaissance. These books can be found in our print collection at The Trove and on OverDrive. At the end of the post, you'll also find some fun and educational websites for kids.

Whoosh! by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate
Library Catalog
OverDrive

Did you know that one of the most popular toys was invented by accident? Meet Lonnie Johnson, a boy who had lots of ideas and no room for all of his gizmos and gadgets that his dad brought home from the junkyard. He had dreams of making rockets but this task wasn’t an easy one. He won a science fair and built his own booming sound system. Lonnie even worked for NASA but Lonnie had his own ideas for many inventions. One day he stumbled upon an invention by mistake that would become a water gun. Read about Lonnie’s challenges and the toy that became a popular toy for kids. One of my favorite pages in this book is a pop-out page that illustrates the water gun and splashes water across: WHOOSH. A fun read.

On February 23rd, join us to hear a reading of Whoosh and make a straw rocket. Click here for more information and to sign up.

Meet Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the super of the super soaker!
Check out his website and learn more about his invention.

What If… by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato
Library Catalog
What if we realized how powerful we are as individuals? What if we learned that we can create anything that our heart desires? What If… by Samantha Berger is a story about imagination and creativity. Told in first person, this wonderful book shows young readers that anything is possible if you believe in it. A young African American girl imagines using found objects (snow, dirt, sand) to create. What if all of her art supplies and found objects disappear? Would it be possible to still imagine or tell a story? If I had nothing, but still had my mind; there would always be stories to seek and to find. In the notes readers find out that Berger wrote this book when she lost her house; amidst the crisis the author thought she would never be able to create again. She wrote a beautiful story of creativity, dreams, belief and the power of imagination. This is one of my favorite picture books.

Try pairing What If… with Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie Latour, a story about a young Haitian girl whose portrait helps her see herself in a new light. A beautiful book with illustrations that highlight the world of Haitian culture.
Library Catalog
OverDrive

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Brown, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Library Catalog
OverDrive
In Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice, by Mahogany L. Browne asks us the meaning and significance behind being Woke. The book is a collection of poems about justice, activism, body acceptance, and what it means to be part of a community. The illustrations are beautiful in their portrayal of empathy, depicting leaders–movers and shakers–who came before us, and made the world a better place. There are Black Lives Matter signs as well as rainbows to show the acceptance of LGBTQ in the African American community. The book also allows children to learn about integration, immigration and protesting through one of the most powerful tools that we have: our words. Woke is an exceptional and timely book.

I also highly recommend Woke Baby by Mahogany L. Browne, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III.
Library Catalog

A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Library Catalog
OverDrive
On February 22, 1888, Horace Pippin was born. Horace loved helping his family around the house, playing with his brother and arranging dominoes for his grandfather. Horace also loved drawing all of the wonderful things he saw daily. He even drew a funny face and entered a contest for a magazine! Horace won and received a box of pencils, brushes and paints. When his father left, Horace had to quit school to work but he still loved to paint and even drew in the trenches of WWI. Though he was injured Horace continued to draw: a lacy white curtain, a yellow cat sprinting down an alley and a splash of red geraniums blooming on the steps. He began to use scorched wood to draw stories from his grandmother’s days of slavery and other stories in his head. A wonderful picture book that illustrates the life of Horace Pippin, a remarkable self-taught folk artist and an inspiration to anyone with a creative soul. The book also includes historical notes. A fantastic read for anyone who yearns to paint, doodle and draw.

Learn more about Pippin’s story from the National Gallery of Art.

Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Library Catalog
OverDrive
A beautifully illustrated book that provides a glimpse into the life of a ballerina. Misty Copeland writes about a young African American girl who sweats at the barre, leaps and falls a thousand times. Will this young girl ever learn to spread her wings and perform an arabesque? Dreamers and artists often wonder if they could ever reach the heights of their mentors and the people they admire. Can this ballerina become a firebird like Misty Copeland?

New Kid and Class Act by Jerry Craft
New Kid: Library Catalog; OverDrive
Class Act: Library Catalog; OverDrive

New Kid by Jerry Craft is the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal; the book also won the Coretta Scott King award in 2019. The graphic novel follows Jordan Banks, an artist, who is sent to a private school. How does one stay true to themselves as an artist and live two different lives? Can Jordan make friends and adapt to his new school? Will others be able to understand who he is? A great graphic novel that represents the reality of how the lack of diversity can make one feel at odds with their environment. If you love graphic novels and the works of Rania Telgemeier, then you will love New Kid and Class Act.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ella Fitzgerald by M. Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Library Catalog

If there has ever been a Queen of Jazz, I would expect that title to go to Ms. Ella Fitzerald. This amazing jazz musician has always been one of my favorite African American singers. I have enjoyed her songs and her duets, especially with Louis Armstrong. Also, Little People, Big Dreams is a wonderful series.

Meet Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown
Library Catalog
Did you know that Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame? Aretha Franklin was more than a singer; she was also a civil rights activist. Read about this amazing, intelligent and resilient woman who will always be remembered as a star in our hearts. A Voice Named Aretha has wonderful illustrations that reveal the turbulent times of the 60’s and how Aretha was brave enough to stand up for equal rights.

The Very Best of Aretha Franklin on Hoopla.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, edited by Nikki Giovanna
Library Catalog
This wonderful collection has poems and songs by artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur and Langston Huges. Nikki Giovanni provides a beautiful introduction to the book, discussing how rhythm, rap and hip-hop are elements of stories. We also learn about the battle of words and poetry slams. The book includes beautiful poems such as “I Think I will Call it Morning” by Gil Scott-Heron, “Aloneness” by Gwendolyn Books and “From Principal’s Office” by Young M.C. Hip Hop Speaks to Children is filled with beautiful illustrations that depict hip-hop, poetry and dance.

I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan
Library Catalog
OverDrive
This is a collection of beautiful poetry. The illustrations are mosaic-like in style. I particularly love “I am a Mirror,” a poem that reflects the gifts of individuals through ancestry. On the right, a mirror appears. For an activity, try reading this poem as you and your child look into the “mirror.”

Who is Nikki Giovanni?

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes
Library Catalog
OverDrive
This wonderful collection of poetry explores the Harlem Renaissance. The book begins by introducing the historical context of one of the most influential artistic periods in American history: the Harlem Renaissance. Millions of African Americans left the South and settled in the North. Between 1918 and 1930 an explosion of African American music, art, and literature spread across the city. This introduction might be helpful as we navigate the political upheavals that we have witnessed the past year. Why look to the art of the Harlem Renaissance for inspiration, wisdom, and strength in difficult times? These writers are survivors of slavery, segregation and the Jim Crow South. An inspiring book about poetry and the beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance.

Learn more about the life of Nikki Grimes.

The Harlem Renaissance from the History Channel.

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newtown
Library Catalog
OverDrive
Harriet Powers was an enslaved person who lived through the Civil War. Life wasn’t easy for her but she was able to express herself with a needle and thread. Harriet learned that wild indigo made blue and hickory bark made brown. She was also able to provide for her family. A wonderful poetic book that uses patchwork as pictures to portray an artist’s biography. If you love to work with textiles and want to learn about quilting, Sewing Stories is a wonderful read.

Explore the life of Harriet Powers:

Come on, Rain by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Library Catalog
OverDrive
On a hot summer day Tess wants the rain to pour down from the sky. As Tess sips iced tea with her mother, she patiently waits for the rain to rescue them from the heat. Once the first drop plops down from the sky, Tess and her friends begin to whirl and dance in the streets. They splash around, make circles, and even swirl with their parents around the puddles of rain. The watercolor illustrations are a wonderful way to explore a carefree day.

Who was Bob Marley? by Katie Ellison
Library Catalog
Do you love Bob Marley as much as I do? Bob Marley and the Wailers entertained through their music, but they were also aware of the injustices of the world. “Get Up, Stand Up” is a song about standing up for your rights. I was lucky enough to visit Bob Marley’s home in Jamaica years ago, and saw the new revival of the Wailers last year at a festival. A treat for those who love to read about legends!

If you love poetry, you must meet Maya Angelou! Who Was Maya Angelou? by Ellen Labrecque.

Learn more about Duke Ellington and the Harlem Renaissance with Who Was Duke Ellington? by M. D. Payne.

On Hoopla, discover Duke Ellington at the Blue Note and listen to Bob Marley’s Legend.

Marvel’s Black Panther
Library Catalog: Book and DVD
OverDrive
One of my favorite superhero stories is Marvel’s Black Panther. Wakanda, a fictional country in Africa, is unknown to the outside world. However, the realm of Wakanda is extraordinary: Walanda has vibranium, a metal which is sewn into the clothes of the Wakanda tribe. Vibranium also acts as a powerful weapon and can also heal wounded warriors. This film is fantastic in many ways. The women of the film fight with great pride and Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, is no ordinary princess. Shuri is also a wonderful STEAM role model for African American girls and boys. The cast is mostly African American (featuring amazing performances by the late Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker.) Ryan Coogler, the director, is also African American. It is rare for a fantasy or a superhero story to portray people of color. Like Jordan Peele’s phenomenal film, Get Out, Black Panther also examines social justice issues. Black Panther also weaves in themes of honor, tradition, family, African pride and Shamanic journeying (in which one travels to the spiritual world for guidance). Black Panther is a wonderful film for the entire family.

My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal
Library Catalog
OverDrive
Art and acceptance often work together to bring awareness to social justice for all people, including the LGBTQ population. Read about a loving mother who wants to support Trinity, who identifies herself as a transgender girl. One night Trinity’s mother sits down with her needle, thread and wig cap, to create a wig. Even though she poked herself with a needle a few times and the thread got tangled in the curls, Trinity’s mother continued to work late into the night to create the perfect wig for her daughter. Heartwarming with illuminating pictures of love, family and acceptance, My Rainbow is a must-read for anyone who is an ally for the African American and LGBTQ communities.

Try seeing the world through the eyes of Deshanna Neal.
LGBTQ and African Americans

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade
Library Catalog
OverDrive
Gwendolyn Brooks loved to sit on her big back porch and dream of the future. Soon she realized that she had a passion for writing and it was something she was born to do. She filled up her notebooks with poetry and sent out her poems when she was just eleven years old! Learn about the remarkable life of Gwendolyn Brooks. The illustrations are whimsical and magical as they show Gwendolyn’s room and how she views the world. Although Gwendolyn felt invisible in school, she was also invincible as she wrote. Eventually Gwendolyn Brooks finds her way and becomes the first African American person to win the Pulitzer Prize. A must-read for any writer, young or old.

Listen to the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks.

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe
Library Catalog
OverDrive
Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe is the true story of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The book illustrates his life by using collage-like images of his beginnings in Brooklyn. Jean-Michel dreamt of becoming an artist. Readers learn that he drew from morning until night amidst a storm of papers. At night, as he slept, Jean-Michel would wake to draw his deepest dreams. He learned art from his mother who had Afro-Caribbean roots and took her son to museums for inspiration. A wonderful book that explores the early days of Jean-Michel Basquait. Did you know that as a young man, Jean-Michel spray-painted his art under the name Samoo?

Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum

Harlem’s Little Blackbird by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Library Catalog
OverDrive
Harlem’s Little Blackbird was named Florence Mills. Florence loved to sing along with her mother and her voice was strong as she sang, rocking in her mother’s arm. Her schoolmates loved watching her sing and dance, and named the dance the Cakewalk! Florence was even invited to sing and dance in the theatre. However, segregation made matters difficult. When her African American friends came to see Florence, the manager wouldn’t let them in because of the unfair segregation laws. Florence used her voice to help her friends get into the theatre. She performed with her sisters in a group known as the Mill Trio; they played and danced at Harlem’s Lincoln Theatre. Florence Mills became famous during the Harlem Renaissance, where Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes were adding to the cultural movement. Florence Mills also used her voice for social justice and equality for others. A remarkable story of a talented woman who also spent time helping the poor. A must-read for anyone who believes that the arts can influence social justice.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie
Library Catalog
Enslaved people in New Orleans gathered every Sunday at Congo Square to dance, sing, and play music — they were able to find a form of freedom through the arts for one day each week. Freedom in Congo Square is an inspiring and wonderful story that depicts the harsh daily life of slavery along with the joy that the arts can bring.

Try pairing this book with Sing a Song by Kelly Starling Lyons to learn about the African American National Anthem.
Library Catalog
OverDrive

The History of Congo Square and the Roots of New Orleans Music.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library, by Carole Boston Weatherford and Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Library Catalog
Arturo Schomburg loved to collect books, letters, music and art from Africa. Born in 1874, Arturo, an Afro-Puerto Rican man, had a passion and a mission: Schomburg wanted to bring awareness to the achievements of the descendants of Africans. This ambitious project led him to realize that he was collecting history for generations to come. His research led him to realize how African American history had been white-washed; Arturo was determined to keep the memories of Frederick Douglas and Haitian’s revolutionary hero, Louverture, alive. Soon his collection grew too large for his home and his books needed a new place, one where people could research, read, and borrow these items. Read about this extraordinary man’s effort to keep African and African American history alive at the New York Public Library.

Check out The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

If you loved Schomburg you might want to read William Still and His Freedom Stories by Don Tate, about a man known as the father of the Underground Railroad. William Still collected the stories of thousands of freedom seekers! He helped unite families with his research. William came across figures such as Harriet Tubman, Henry “Box” Brown, and William and Ellen Craft.
Library Catalog
OverDrive

Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood: Sugar Hill by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Gregory Christie
Library Catalog
The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most important artistic periods in American and African American History. It was a time where the arts flourished in Harlem: poetry, jazz, literature and social justice awareness were at their peak in Harlem. Sugar Hill is the place where grand townhomes lend river views and parties swing to jazz and blues. This poetic book introduces young readers to the world of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Zora Neale Hurston. Sugar Hill, Sugar Hill–where life is so sweet that pride rings out on every street! A must-read for any aspiring artist.

Also check out these other titles about the Harlem Renaissance:
Harlem Stomp by Laban Carrick Hill
Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

STEAM/Black History Month Websites:

Categories: Authors & Books, Featured, Homepage Kids, Kids, and Library News.

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