Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start

Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start

Bob Raczka
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 11
Lerner, 2011   ISBN: 978-0761373001

Many of us have seen, at least in books or on posters, photos of famous paintings by people such as Michelangelo, Picasso, Salvador Dali. We know that they grew up to become famous and revered artists, but most of us have no idea what they were like as children. When did they start to love art? Did they draw or paint when they were children? Why did they become artists?

In this book, Bob Raczka looks at the lives of seven very well-known artists. For each one, he found a work of art that the artist created when he or she was still quite young, and he tells us about the artist’s childhood. Then he goes on to show us a work of art the artist created when he or she was a teen, and another that was completed in adulthood.

The author begins by telling us about Michelangelo who, when he was a young boy, lived on a farm with a family of stonecutters. As an adult, Michelangelo was both a famous painter and a sculptor, and we can assume that he first began working with stone when he lived on that farm. Later, when he was ten, Michelangelo was sent to a grammar school in Florence. The boy’s father wanted his son to be a scholar, but Michelangelo was far more interested in creating art, and he often skipped school to watch art apprentices working.

Artemisia Gentileschi had a different childhood experience. Her father was a painter, and she fell in love with the artist’s way of life very early on. When she as only twelve, she began to work as her father’s apprentice, which was very usual as women at that time (in the 1600s) were not typically allowed to work in a trade. Having a painter in the family, a father who was happy to teach her, made it possible for Atemisia to become an artist when she grew up.

The other artists we learn about in this book are Albrecht Durer, John Singer Sargent, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali. It is fascinating to see the art these people created when they were young, and to learn how much their childhood experiences influenced them.

With interesting biographies and annotated photos of art works throughout, this is an excellent book for young readers who are interested in artists and their stories.