“There are many art books for children that feature Old Masters work, which is great, but we wanted to go in a different direction,” Jessica Brown, creative director of Home Grown Books, said of the publisher’s new Mini Museum Series. The books in the series all involve the work of contemporary artists, with the first two featuring paintings by Katherine Bradford and photography by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher.
Bradford’s Six is a counting book with playful oil and gouache paintings of repeating ships, swimmers, and buoys mixing the figurative and abstract. Robbins and Becher’s Black Cowboys is an early reader’s book with photographs from the overlooked black cowboy culture. For both the visuals were pulled from existing work, but reframed for a child’s perspective with text by Home Grown Books founder and reading specialist Kyla Ryman. A portion of the sales from each book goes toward the nonprofit Lily Sarah Grace Fund, which supports the arts in public schools.
“Nearly every painting [by Bradford] can transform into something unexpected: boats into statues, swimmers into lights, buoys into women,” Brown said. “We didn’t use any nouns in the book because we wanted to preserve the freedom of creating, naming, and storytelling that comes from the child’s experience with the paintings.”
In one painting, six steamships cross a white-hatched background, while in another sixteen swimmers hold hands in the waves like the figures in Matisse’s “Dance” (1909). The photography in Black Cowboys has similarly engaging images, accompanied by basic text like “These cowboys are wearing red shirts” alongside a photograph of the Circle 44 Riding Club in Houston, or “These cowboys are laughing” with two members of the NY Federation of Black Cowboys in Queens.
“Andrea and Max’s photographs offer many entry points into discussions both big and small, the biggest, of course, being why pop culture rarely portrays cowboys of color, even though black cowboys make up a third of the cowboys in America,” Brown stated.
In January of 2016, the third book in the Mini Museum Series will feature art by Wangechi Mutu, who has a distinctive painting and collage style with an experimentation that isn’t often seen in children’s books. All of the series books are made with board, making them sturdy reading for small hands, a durable introduction to different ways of seeing through art responding to the contemporary world.