Art topic books for children – our recommendations
Art topic books for 4-16-year-olds – our recommendations. This list includes art-related books, library reference books for the 700 shelves in your school library – including nonfiction illustrated books, picture books, fiction stories, how-to art guides, and real-life stories about children and adults inspired by art. Writers include Julia Donaldson, Allan Ahlberg, Andrea Beaty, Kari Herbert, David Hockney, Akwaeke Emezi and Tracy Chevalier.
Art topic books for classrooms, school libraries and art rooms – our recommended titles
Busy Little Fingers: Art by Eva Wong Nava and Eleonora Marton
Bursting with colour and enthusiasm, Busy Little Fingers: Art takes young readers on a journey through different periods of modern art, including Surrealism, Cubism and Pop Art. Each double-page spread is packed with facts, ideas and quick projects to try. Practical and inspirational, this Busy Little Fingers book is a joy to read and explore both at home with 4-6-year-olds and to use for classroom ideas in EYFS.
The Most Famous Rhinoceros by Dianne Hofmeyr and Simona Mulazzani
Princess Beatrix is excited when she finds out her father will receive an exotic gift. Is it a unicorn? She hopes so. But her disappointment when she finds out it’s a rhinoceros named Genda turns into a strong bond of friendship, and the princess fights to return him to his jungle home, highlighting the mistreatment of animals throughout history. Simona Mulazzani’s ornate illustrations beautifully capture the period and emotions of the story. The beautiful hardback story is inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut print of a rhinoceros sent from India to Portugal in 1515.
Henri and the Machine by Isabelle Marinov & Olga Shtonda
When Henri visits an art gallery as part of a class trip, at first he doesn’t find it interesting. But a beautiful hue of blue and a well-placed philosophical question causes him to think deeply. A wonderfully illustrated book to read, share and discuss with EYFS and KS1 classes, Henri and the Machine perfectly answers the question: ‘What is the point of art?’
Art and Joy Best Friends Forever by Danielle Krysa
Art and Joy love to try new things, explore their creativity and experiment. But when the Art Bully appears, seeds of doubt and insecurity are sown. Witty and full of fun, this is a joyful book with a positive message that will inspire children in KS1 and lower KS2. Full of charm and quirkiness, be sure to purchase a pack of googley-eyes and be prepared for your children to see sweet cucumbers and exotic pasta in a whole new light!
Nature is an Artist by Jennifer Lavellee
Nature is an artist working all around us in this bold and vibrant illustrated picture book which will teach children to look for and see art all around them when they go outside. Featuring vibrant painting, printing, collage, sculpture, texture rubbing, stamps, and more, this picture book is perfect for children who like to feel and imagine art. It’s a great source of ideas for early years art, and a useful book to read with younger pupils to inspire confidence and creativity.
Ella in the Garden of Giverny by Monika Vaicenaviciene
This large-format hardback non-fiction picture book follows Ella, a young girl who makes friends with the famous artist Claude Monet. The unique and childlike first-person perspective will draw readers into a world of painting, impressionism and a passion for art. Quite unique and with incredible illustrations, this is book would make a stunning gift, or a standout story to read and share with a lower KS2 class. There’s also a biography and further reading at the end of the book to inspire independent learning.
Shu Lin’s Grandpa by Matt Goodfellow and Yu Rong
Shu finds it difficult to adapt to her new school, where everyone else speaks English and already has friends. But when Shu’s grandfather visits the class with his artwork, everything changes. With vibrant shining yellows and a wonderful and unexpected fold-out spread, this is a beautifully printed and presented diverse picture book suitable for children in EYFS and KS1. Shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2022, this picture book is a valuable resource to discuss during transition or at the start of a school year.
The Looking Book by Lucia Vinti
Right from the Ferris Bueler movie quote at the start: “Live moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”, this book invites young artists to embrace the world around them and have a go at everything. A diverse range of artists, such as Frida Kahlo, David Hockney and Clementine Hunter are profiled, and different locations, such as ‘in the town’, ‘at home’ and ‘going to the gallery’ are explored. At every stage there’s a practical opportunity for children to create art, with architectural observations, people watching and collage amongst just some of the activities. This is a fantastically creative and inspirational book of ideas for 7-13-year-olds. Highly recommended.
Drawing Outdoors by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng
An impromptu outdoor art lesson pivots unexpectedly into a dinosaur adventure in this imaginative story about a remote rural classroom with pupils that love to explore and draw. With bold illustrations and spectacular creatures, children’s attention will definitely be grabbed! A visual tour de force of imagination for 4-7-year-olds, this picture book is ideal to spark creative writing and artwork ideas in KS1 classes.
Colour and Me! by Michaela Dias-Hayes
This sparkling picture book by the author of ‘Sunflower Sisters’ blends colour wheel theory with diverse characters and a big-hearted and positive celebration of family heritage. The bold illustrations, practical storyline and joyful painting exuberance will appeal to children and parents in EYFS, both as a story to read and share and as an impetus for Early Years art ideas.
The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson
Julia Donaldson adapts this traditional Chinese tale into enchanting illustrated rhyming verses. A young girl – Chen – is given a paintbrush with magical qualities and everything she paints becomes real. Using this gift, she helps to feed the poor. The mighty Emperor, however, has different ideas. With wonderful watercolour illustrations that will captivate younger children, this is a joyous story of good overcoming evil.
The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg
A wonderful story – ideal for bedtime at home or circle time at school. What, or who will the pencil draw next? The reader is challenged to guess, and imagination runs riot in this chuckle-provoking tale. A valuable addition to KS1 class libraries, this picture book is bound to inspire a love of pencils!
The Dot by Peter H Reynolds
A clever and thoughtful picture book that can be used to encourage reluctant artist children to have a go at something and prove to themselves that they can achieve. Vashti doesn’t like art lessons because she thinks she can’t draw. The story follows her progress from the first angry dot that she paints. A great motivation book to have in KS1 and KS2 classrooms.
Beautiful OOPS! by Barney Salzberg
This colourful and tactile picture book is full of flaps and interactive pages. Designed to reassure children, this story shows that wonderful opportunities can arise from mistakes. A real confidence builder, this is a book that can be used in many different settings, at home and in KS1 and KS2 classrooms.
Complete Book of Art Ideas by Fiona Watt
With illustrated, step by step instructions, and a multitude of different skills and materials involved, this is a ‘go-to’ book for children and primary teachers. It’s a highly recommended book for both teachers and children that’s packed with art projects suitable for the classroom and home.
Art topic books for KS2 – our recommended titles
Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty
Aaron finds books difficult – the letters never seem to become the words his friends find so easy to read. When he’s asked by his teacher to write a story, he doesn’t use words, but instead spectacular pictures that wow and amaze him. An inspirational story for upper KS1 and lower KS2, with diverse characters, that will help build confidence in children who struggle with literacy but love art.
Art – A Children’s Encyclopedia by David Taylor and Susie Hodge
A brilliant introduction to art that is ideal for school libraries, classrooms and children who want to find out more about painting through the ages. From prehistoric cave painting, it comprehensively covers artists, style and methods up to the present day. Lavishly illustrated, it also includes sections of sculpture and photography.
Scavenger Art: Creative Challenges for Curious Kids by Lexi Rees and Molly O’Donoghue
This book is perfect for use both at home – inside on a rainy day, or outside searching – or at school – in a classroom setting it can be scaled up for use inside by a whole class, or on the school grounds. 52 new scavenger hunts, with guides on how and where to look for items to draw, together with hints on perspective, the use of lighting, shape and colour.
13 Artists Children Should Know by Angela Wenzel
Ideal to stimulate and inform children interested in art and artists, this is a great book for a school library or art room. Da Vinci, Vermeer, Van Gogh are just three of the artists treated to an in-depth biography along with examples of their work. Inspiring and immersive, this book includes games, activities and quizzes to help engage the reader.
Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures by Susan Schwake
This is a book that will help to make art accessible to children of all ages. It provides ideas, techniques and projects to be followed closely, or used as springboards for new inspiration. Each theme has been devised by an artist with their own style, and each idea can be adapted into lesson plans, With collage, mixed media, printing, painting, drawing and more, there’s something for all year groups and abilities.
Modern Art Explorer by Alice Harman
A truly accessible and enjoyable guide to art for 8-13-year-old children. With sharply written and thought-provoking text, it includes a wide range of artists and colour reproductions of their best-known work. It answers what, where, when and how questions about 30 artworks, encouraging the reader to uncover the method and motivation behind each painting. A great resource book for topic work.
We Are Artists by Kari Herbert
In this inspirational and diverse book, 15 artists from around the world each describe their motivation, method and approach to their style of art. Many branches of creativity are included, including sculptors, painters, printers and illustrators – to name a few. ‘We Are Artists’ is ideal for KS2 and KS3 libraries and art rooms.
A History of Pictures for Children by David Hockney
With this book, children can travel through the history of art, from cave paintings to the digital age. The lively illustrations engage the reader, while the text answers questions children will want to know the answers to. For example – what is a shadow? How do we make pictures? What tools should we use? Informative and fun, this is a book KS2 will love to delve into.
The Illustrated Story of Art by DK
This is a reference book that should be in every school and art department library, and it’s also a great gift for children who love to read about art. With 400 pages of information about how art has evolved since the age of cave painting, this is a solid hardback. Lavishly illustrated and packed with 2500 examples of stunning paintings and sculptures, every major artistic movement is described in absorbing detail.
Art related books for secondary pupils – our recommended titles
Art of Protest: What a Revolution Looks Like by De Nichols
Explore the visual language of protests, examining colour, symbolism, typography, and more. With chapters on the Rainbow Flag, young climate activists and the students of Parkland, young people will be exposed to art in history and art in real life. With tips and activities to create your own protest art, guided by activist De Nichols and illustrated by talented young artists, this book is practical, inspiring and empowering. This award winning book is highly recommended.
Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi
17-year-old Bitter’s initial joy at being accepted into a school that embraces her love of art is tempered by the social unrest and undercurrent of uncertainty in the world outside her foster home, in this novel set in the same world as the critically acclaimed ‘Pet’. With themes of loyalty, teen love, coming of age and protest, this gritty and compelling novel will appeal to more mature secondary aged children in Y9-11. The incredible cover art will look fabulous in a library display.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
13-year-old Theo is the survivor of a terrorist attack. He survives, but his mother does not, and he is brought up by a family friend, with only a painting to remind him of his former life. But that painting has a history and will lead him into a dangerous future. A thrilling novel with a stunning climax, this will appeal to teens in KS3 and KS4 looking for a gripping and rewarding read.
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
This thrilling historical novel is loosely set in the world of the famous painting by Vermeer. Narrated by 16-year-old Griet, who the author imagines as the girl with an alluring gaze in the portrait, a spellbinding tale of moral outrage, misunderstanding and perception build to a stunningly satisfying ending – all because of an earring. A great read for older teens.
Art topic books resources
- National Gallery learning section for primary and secondary schools, including online lessons, workshops, courses for teachers and project ideas.
- The National Portrait Gallery offers free resources for schools including cross-curricular downloads for Black History Month, the Tudors, David Hockney and photography at school and at home.
- The Tate offers learning programmes for schools, teachers and young people focussing on creativity and innovation.
- BBC Teach offers free videos for schools and parents explaining National Curriculum Art and Design through a series of videos and projects ideas. There are sections for KS1, KS2, and KS3.
- The Cornish artist John Dyer has a number of ideas on his blogs describing how schools can develop projects based on existing artworks.