A review by Annabelle Lee
Women Artists A to Z (due for release on February 18th, 2020) is a collaboration between New York writer and Melanie LaBarge and illustrator Caroline Corrigan. It is pitched as a children’s book. It’s a colorful alphabet book where each letter captures the essence of a female artist’s work in a single word. For example, “E is for Eggs” represents Kay Sage, an American artist who frequently hid eggs in her surrealist paintings. To flesh this out each page features a stylized illustration of the artist with a representation of her work and a brief two sentence summary. At the end of the book are short biographies and discussion prompts for each artist.
A push for equality
In many ways, Women Artists A to Z is a simple children’s book. It’s a formula that has been used countless times before, and yet the focus of this alphabet is (unfortunately) a very niche subject. Unless you’re an art student, I’d hazard a guess that you could probably list off a handful of artists. Go on, try it. Now think, were any of them women? Perhaps one, maybe two? In a society pushing strongly toward equality, here is a children’s book aiming to educate and adjust the balance in the art world. Importantly, it is also clear that efforts have been made to include artists from a wide variety of cultures.
This book took me by surprise. At first glance, it is very simple. A strong concept. I’m all for that. But delivered in a very basic format. It felt like a book made by people who were passionate about the subject, but perhaps unfamiliar with what would actually be engaging to children. It seemed like a children’s book in name only, that would appeal to feminist, art-loving adults in reality.
The topic is actually quite detailed and highbrow. I didn’t see myself being able to read this book to my children (aged 7 and 9) without losing their attention, as it is both too young for them and too old. The age recommendation is 3-7 years.
While the illustrations are colorful and bold, they are also simplistic. This means that anyone reading it sees a representation of the artworks, not the artworks themselves. This feels like a loss.
How it landed
Unsure what to do with the book (any parent will know the pain of a train wreck bedtime story), I had it in my house, waiting. To my surprise, my daughter picked it up and started reading it independently. She didn’t read it in one setting, just a few pages at a time, but the concept fascinated her. She would read the summary aloud, and then spell out the artists name for me to look up on my phone. Google Images is a great companion tool to this book. Reading it became a family affair, and both kids loved finding the real artworks online which the book represented.
Women Artists A to Z is clearly the work of passion for recognition and equality in the art world, and it approaches this with the aim of educating and informing. The book itself is quite simple, though it does serve as a platform for further discovery. I was initially concerned my children would not find it engaging, but allowing them to explore it gradually and with the addition of online research, it landed well and will be revisited again and again.
This sounds like a companion book for Stravinsky’s Lunch, a nonfiction book about women artists by a woman. – Editor
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Dial Books (Penguin Random House)
Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
Category: nonfiction, 3-7 years
Reviewer Annabelle Lee
Annabelle Lee is a chronic book nerd who loves nothing more than a good story and some people to talk to about the story. Congratulations, you are now those people. Occasionally she puts down a book long enough to take care of her kids and even to write and illustrate some books of her own. You can find her horribly punny series of picture books for grown ups on Facebook and Instagram, or all good online bookstores.
DMZ discovered Annabelle Lee at Impact Comics’s festival where Annabelle showed us her hilarious adult picture books.