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Books urge children to take art to heart


All children are creative -- they paint, sculpt, dance, act, sing, play instruments, make up stories, create poems -- until something or someone discourages them. Or fails to encourage them.

Here are some books to encourage young artists to keep right on drawing and painting and creating.

* Inspiration abounds in "Talking with Artists," compiled and edited by Pat Cummings (Bradbury Press, $18.95, ages 9 and up).

Ms. Cummings, an award-winning children's book illustrator, interviews 14 of the best in the business: Victoria Chess, Leo and Diane Dillon, Richard Egielski, Lois Ehlert, Lisa Campbell Ernst, Tom Feelings, Steven Kellogg, Jerry Pinkney, Amy Schwartz, Lane Smith, Chris Van Allsburg, David Wiesner and herself.

Each chapter begins with an autobiographical essay by the artist and includes one photo of the artist as a child and another as an adult.

Ms. Ehlert describes the card table that her parents let her set up in a corner of the dining room. There she spread out her art projects -- she would cut and paste fabric scraps and paper for collages and work on them for days at a time.

"I spent so many happy hours at that table, and I considered it my 'turf.' Having this place to work was special to me," she says.

All of the illustrators say how happy they are to be working at something they enjoy doing. Mr. Kellogg says that one of his most enduring memories of growing up in the suburbs was of adults who hated their jobs.

"I watched them go to work complaining and depressed about the day ahead, and saw them come home in worse emotional shape at the end of the day," he says. "It distressed me to think that someday I might have to spend every day in a place I hated, having to remain there until it was dark, and never having any fun."

That certainly isn't the case for these grown-up artists. Lane Smith talks about the developmental phases of his work, including the Space Stuff Stage, the Car and Submarine Stage, the Baseball Stage, the Superhero Stage, the Bug Stage and so on. He adds helpful examples.

Every chapter, in fact, has a sample of the artist's work from childhood and an illustration from his or her published work. Ms. Cummings also has each artist answer a series of questions that most kids ask her when she speaks at schools and libraries.

There's a glossary of art- and publishing-related terms, plus an added bonus: All of the artists list five favorite books that they've illustrated. This book will be a favorite of any youngster who needs to know it's OK to dream.

* The same inspiration can be found in "Henry Moore: From Bones and Stones to Sketches and Sculptures" by Jane Mylum Gardner (Four Winds Press, $15.95, ages 5 to 7). The age-group recommendations are the publisher's; I would extend it to 12, or even older.

This photo essay shows Mr. Moore working in his studio as well as biking along the path in his wife's garden at their home in Much Hadham, England.

Sequences reveal the creative process. Mr. Moore would start with sketches of the bones and stones he collected. Then he would make a small model in plaster, working with it in the palm of his hand, carving, smoothing and turning it over and over. If he still found it interesting after a few months, he would sculpt larger and larger models. And finally, if he still liked it, he would make it in bronze.

Included are examples of work by Mr. Moore, who died in 1986. And there is this advice from him: "If at first you don't understand what you see, then look again or make a sketch. Give your imagination a chance to grow!"

* A free-wheeling, fun book for any kid who likes to create with colors is "Thinking About Colors" by Jessica Jenkins (Dutton, $14, ages 5 to 10).

Ms. Jenkins connects colors with emotions. Is yellow happy, or does it remind you of feeling sick? Does blue make you sing the blues, or give you a blue-blooded, royal flush? Her palettes are as inspirational as a new, 64-color box of Crayolas.

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