Asian Art and Culture: Books for Children

Posted on December 29, 2010. Filed under: Art and Life, Birds and Wildlife, Books and Literacy, Global culture, World History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Children’s literature (aka kidlit) offers some wonderful books inspired by Asian art and culture. You kind teachers and parents who invest valuable time encouraging children to appreciate the varied cultures and art of Asia, will want to talk with children about the ancient ideas and symbols it represents, as well as point to some modern interpretations. These four books are a great place to start.

Asian Art: Come Look with Me
Kimberly Lane
Ages 7  – 10
Hardcover, 32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-890674-19-9
Buy the Book

“At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten, everything I create–a dot, a line–will jump to life as never before.”
–Katsushika Hokusai

Twelfth in the Come Look With Me series of art education and appreciation books for children, Asian Art is a big, beautiful introduction to twelve great works from South, East, and Southeast Asia. The selection of these masterpieces gives children and their parents a  journey of variety, across artistic traditions in Asia through a range of time periods and cultures. 

The artworks from India include an 11th-century sculpture of Buddha Shakyamuni and a lively 14th century seated Ganesha sculpture from Orissa. From 19th-century Tibet is the brilliant blue bodhisattva, Akashagarbha. Chinese calligraphy and scroll art range from the 15th century to the 20th.  In a book that features so many older masterpieces (including horse riders in a 19th-century Hokusai woodcut) the 21st century example of Japan’s Takashi Murakami’s “superflat” art is an eye-popping surprise. Each piece of art is introduced with a full-page color reproduction. An accompanying page includes a brief biography of the artist and notes on the art form and its symbolism, together with information about the time period. Each begins with a few questions in big type, designed to encourage young readers to think about and engage in discussion of the art. This book is published in cooperation with The School at Columbia University.

The Origami Master
Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
Ages 7  – 10
Hardcover, 32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-89075-6134-8
Buy the Book

Shima the Origami Master lives on a mountain in Japan. One day an origami elephant appears on his desk, and the next day a magnificent folded paper dragon. Who is making these wonderful creations? This book is the story of his enlightening discovery. Illustrated with beautiful paper cut art by Aki Sogabe, this book is a touching introduction to the Japanese art form. In the back of the book are step-by-step instructions on how to make an origami bird.

To create a fun and inspiring math lesson for older children, here’s a short video interview with a master of computational origami,  the mathematics required to create elaborate origami, as well as large practical applications of folded flat materials such as auto airbags and surgical procedures.

Wabi Sabi
Mark Reibstein
Art by Ed Young
Ages 4-8
Hardcover, 40 pages  
ISBN: 978-0316118255
Buy the book

The best introduction I can make to this extraordinary picture book (which opens bottom to top, rather than right to left) is to offer you this video by the author and the illustrator about the making of the book, and the concept of “wabi sabi,” finding subtle beauty and poetry in ordinary imperfections, a concept which has its roots in Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

Dragon Fire, Ocean Mist
Yvonne Palka
Ages 7-10
Paperback, 210 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9817668-0-5
Buy the book

This fast-moving chapter book, written by award-winning sumi artist  and naturalist Yvonne Palka, is not only a great fantsy adventure with its timeless message about the importance of peacemaking and getting along with others, it’s also a heartwarming introduction to the marine wildlife of the Pacific Northwest’s Shi Shi Beach. The book is generously illustrated with Palka’s modern Chinese brush paintings — depicting dragons in conflict, cooperation, and magical reverie. Occasionally a tiny crab scuttles along the bottom of a page, or seaweed flutters at the top, mimicking the ocean’s surface. The book’s beauty and magic owe as much to superb art direction by Yachun Peng as to Palka’s fine illustrations.

Well-written characters bring depth and humor to this innovative tale of an ancient dragon family who emerge upon a real beach in Washington State to befriend the inquisitive human brother and sister, Jaxon and Allie.

Teachers and parents, this book is quite simply an educational gold mine. In the back of the book are essays on Sumi-e (Chinese brush painting), haiku, seals and chop marks, and on dragon lore (Asian, European, and more) and the marine wildlife of the Pacific Northwest coastal region. The tone of the essays is bright and cheery, inviting exploration in the library and the outdoors. I highly recommend Yvonne Palka’s educational website with learning activities for kids and lesson plans for teachers. Palka’s excellent Firebrand newsletter features a different bit of lore and/or mini-essay about Pacific Northwest marine life in each issue, as well as fun “super simple sumi” art exercises that readers of any age will enjoy.


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