From The Book Shelf: Coloring Outside the Lines

Each month I spotlight two books guaranteed to delight readers and provide fun activities to further extend the meaning of each reading experience. With so many wonderful titles available, this is no easy task! I bring a 33-year teaching career, literacy expertise, and a passion for creating joyful readers to every column I write. I certainly hope you enjoy this month’s picks as much as I do!

Coloring Outside the Lines

Young children are frequently told they are to color within the lines of an image and, perhaps, even instructed to use a specific color for different parts of the design (e.g., sky is blue and grass is green). But what happens when the marks stray beyond the lines and the color selections are not what you expect (e.g., purple trees and pink elephants)? Then, the child has the opportunity to make the artwork truly his own! Once in a while, encourage children to put away their pre-prepared drawings and create something distinctly different and fun. Giving permission to fill the page with bold lines and bright colors is the freedom young artists need to make their mark. Here’s to letting crayons go wherever they want and coloring with joyful abandon…both inside and outside of the lines!

You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece.

~ Albert Einstein

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book for 2017, Javaka Steptoe shines a bright light on the life of young artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose unique collage-style paintings skyrocketed him to international fame in the 1980s. Steptoe’s award-winning father, John Steptoe (i.e., Stevie and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters) spent his career spotlighting the African-American experience and it is clear Javaka is following in those footsteps with this title. Javaka’s vibrant and creative artwork, which echoes Basquiat’s dramatic mixed media style, is accompanied by a powerful message that art doesn’t always have to live between the lines. If you take the time to look around, you will find art is everywhere in all its wonderful forms. As a young boy, Basquiat colored on everything and it was “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow it was still BEAUTIFUL.” He showed a talent for art early in his life and his mother encouraged his colorful and “interesting” drawings and paintings, talked to him about art, took him to museums, and even sent him to an arts-oriented private school. This book follows Basquiat’s life as a child artist to the height of his success, avoiding the topic of his drug use and untimely death. Readers will find additional information about the rest of Basquiat’s life, as well as a key to the motifs in his art in the back matter of the book.


Peter Reynolds is perhaps best known for his award-winning picture book, The Dot, and the launch of International Dot Day—a day set aside for “connecting, creating, and collaborating with millions of people around the globe,” but Ish is not to be missed! This perfect companion text is a powerful fable and parable combo that celebrates the artistic process, while serving as a gentle reminder to encourage and support children’s creativity and “ishful” thinking. The main character, Ramon, loves to draw: “Anytime. Anything. Anywhere.” until one day when his older brother, Leon, laughs at Ramon’s work. In that instant, Ramon loses all confidence as an artist, puts down his crayon, crumples up his creative efforts, and tosses them on the floor. Fortunately, Ramon’s younger sister, Marisol, sees the world very differently and finds beauty in Ramon’s “ish” drawings. He is surprised to find all of his discarded artwork pinned to her bedroom walls. This one act of validation of his “vase-ish,” “tree-ish,” and “silly-ish” drawings proves to be exactly what Ramon needs to begin creating once again with renewed passion and energy. The dangers of insisting young artists “produce exact replicas” is highlighted beautifully in this seemingly simple text that encourages readers to see all creative endeavors in an “ishful” kind of way.

“The artist is not a special kind of person; rather each person is a special kind of artist.”                                                                                                                        

~ Ananda Coomaraswamy

Extension Activities: 


According to Rosa Murillo, “Found-Art” is the term given to a piece of art or even something else, like a recipe, quote, or good-luck charm that gets left behind by the artist, and found by someone else. Jean-Michel Basquiat used a mixture of words, letters, numerals, symbols, and drawings to create images that impacted and inspired the observer in different ways. In like fashion, write a message that makes you feel happy and add a mixed media drawing (e.g., colored pencils and watercolors) to enhance the message. Leave your mixed-media art in a public place for someone else to find. Creating art that brings you joy and then sharing it with someone who is not expecting it is a wonderful way to inspire to the world.

Math-Ish Fun

Estimating is not only an important life skill, but it can be great fun, too! Gather items found outdoors (e.g., acorns, pinecones, leaves, or rocks) and/or inside your home (e.g., buttons, cotton balls, or crayons) and count them before placing into a container. Record the exact number of items on a sheet of paper and put it in a spot only you know about. Ask your family and friends to guess how many items are in the container. Remember, the goal of estimating is to make a rough calculation of the quantity—not count out every item. Like Ramon, who discovered the freedom that comes with “ishful” art, encourage everyone to make a “best-ish” guess without worry of “getting it exactly right.” Once everyone has recorded their guesses, reveal the exact number.

All the Colors of the Rainbow

After reading Ish, think about the different things you do in a single day, from the moment you wake up until the time you go to bed at night. Jot them down. Think about how you feel during each of those events and describe the emotion in one “mood-ish” word. Take it a step farther by selecting a color you feel best represents that mood-ish word. For example, do you get up in the mornings feeling “happy-ish,” “grumpy-ish,” or “silly-ish”? What color best represents that feeling? Have fun and use your imagination to create your own mood rainbow. Make a small arc in the center of a sheet of paper with the color of the first mood-ish color of the day, and repeat with the colors of subsequent events, adding a larger arc beside the previous one with each new mood-ish color. Have a friend make a mood rainbow and then compare and contrast your creations.



[fbcomments url="" width="100%" count="off" num="15" countmsg="Facebook Comments"]