Saturday, January 27, 2018

Five Inspiring African American Artists (Biography)

Javaka Steptoe, author and illustrator

Publisher Summary: Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980’s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums. His story introduces young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean—and definitely not inside the lines—to be beautiful. 

What’s to Love:  The artwork is stunning (worthy of the Caldecott it won).  The beautiful narrative focuses on Basquiat’s childhood and development as an artist.   Readers will find his grit and passion as inspiring as the works he created. 

Chris Raschka, author and illustrator

Publisher Summary: Jazz musician Sun Ra always said that he came from Saturn.  Being from another planet, he was naturally interested in everything earthly—especially music, because music is the one thing on earth most like the stories.  So he made music.  And he traveled with other musicians and singers—calling themselves the Sun Ra Arkestra, playing, singing, and dancing for people all over the planet.  Because music, he said, is what holds us all together.

What’s to Love:  Sun Ra stood for love and peace during a tumultuous era.  Using his talent and passion, he brought people around the world together in music and in dance. His music is a blend of so many different types that he, in essence, created his own one-of-a-kind style.  Like the artist that inspired the biography, the watercolor and ink illustrations are not easy to label, but they aptly capture the otherworldly feel of the artist and his music. 

Jonah Winter, author
Marjorie Priceman, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  Josephine has all the moves, but she also has dark skin, and some think that means she should stay in the shadows—or only play the clown.  But that simply will not work for Miss Josephine.  Instead she dances her way out of poverty and into stardom. 

What’s to Love: The blues inspired lyrical text and the energetic illustrations depict the feisty personality and amazing talent of Miss Josephine.  The vivid colors and bold pen strokes bring her story of perseverance and strength to life.

Kathleen Benson, author
Benny Andrews, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  Benny Andrews loved to draw.  And he dreamed of a better life—something beyond the brutal segregation, the backbreaking labor, and the limited opportunities of the farm.  Benny’s dreams took him far from the rural Georgia of his childhood.  He became one of the most important African-American artists of the twentieth century, and he opened doors for other artists of color.  He fought for civil rights, and to make the art world more inclusive.  His story is an inspiration for artists and dreamers everywhere.

What’s to Love:  Author Kathleen Benson craftily combines her text with Andrew’s raw paintings to illustrate the artist’s life and world.  His story of overcoming adversity to become a respected artist beautifully unfolds in this appealing picture book biography.  The most admirable part of his life is his commitment to give back to his community.  Known as the people’s artists, he spent much of his life inspiring people—young and old—in all walks of life to tell their stories through their art.  

Carole Boston Weatherford, author
Jamey Christoph, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  With lyric verse and atmospheric art, Gordon Parks tells the story of how, with a single photograph, a self-taught artist got America to take notice. 

What’s to Love:  Author Carole Boston Weatherford captures the heart of Parks’ work in her poignant, yet straightforward language.  Lines like “through Gordon’s lens, her struggle gained a voice” and “you don’t have to hear her story to know her prayer” elevate the story beyond a simple children’s book to an inspiring story of determination and compassion for all ages.  The striking illustrations further the story and theme, illustrating the vital role art can play in uncovering harsh truths and fighting injustice. 

The 2018 #ReadYourWorld Book Review Linkup!


  1. What gorgeous covers! Thanks for this great selection of books to look for!

  2. Beautiful books!! We have read a couple of them, but some are new to me. Thank you for sharing and for participating in MCBD!


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