The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art

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Annotation: A lyrically told, exquisitely illustrated biography of influential Jewish artist and activist Ben Shahn "The first thing... more
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #301785
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Copyright Date: 2021
Edition Date: 2021
Pages: 48
Availability: Available
New Title: Yes
ISBN: Publisher: 1-419-74130-6 Perma-Bound: 0-8000-0388-8
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-419-74130-2 Perma-Bound: 978-0-8000-0388-3
Dewey: 921
Language: English
Reviews:
Publishers Weekly
This profile of Jewish artist and activist Ben Shahn, who emigrated from Lithuania to America in 1906, highlights the threads of compassion and social justice that ran through his work. Shahn learned of injustice early in his life, witnessing his father-s banishment to Siberia for -demanding fair pay for working people,- and later experiencing anti-Semitism in America. Leaving school at age 14 to help support his family, Shahn attended art school at night while apprenticed to a lithographer. An unjust execution spurred Shahn-s social realism paintings, attention to which resulted in the U.S. government hiring him to take photographs across America that -revealed hard lives in troubled times.- Bold, richly layered multimedia illustrations by Turk feature abstracted characters in Shahn-s style, while Levinson-s smooth, well-researched narrative provides a comprehensive introduction to a justice-minded painter. Back matter includes an author-s note, an illustrator-s note, a timeline, and selected bibliography. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
Art and protest meld perfectly in the life of a 20th-century artist.Born into a family of Jewish artisans in early-20th-century Lithuania, Ben Shahn wanted to draw, but there was no money for paper. Instead, he sketched in the margins of his book of Bible stories. After his father, a labor activist, was exiled to Siberia, the family eventually made their way to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Shahn was teased in school because of his accent but won the bullies over with his drawings. His teachers encouraged his talent. Having to quit school to work, Shahn was able to apprentice to a lithographer and attend art school. There, his teachers told him that “pictures should be beautiful—not real life.” Shahn thought otherwise. He went on to paint 23 pictures of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and worked for the FDR administration photographing the American “outsiders” who needed relief and painting murals for a new village for garment workers. Despite threats from the FBI during the McCarthy era, Shahn continued to paint protesters and peace lovers. Levinson’s strong narrative is supported by emotive, brilliantly vibrant paintings in gouache, acrylic, pencil, chalk, and linoleum block prints. One triptych offers powerful images of the Shahns immigrating to NYC; it’s followed by scenes of the neighborhood with its jumble of new streets and foods. Well-researched and -sourced, this is a valuable addition to the canon of artist biographies. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 42.4% of actual size.)This life of an artist with a social conscience makes itself heard. (Yiddish glossary, author's note, illustrator's note, timeline, select bibliography, source notes) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Ben Shahn's first memories as a boy in his early twentieth-century Lithuanian village were of drawing. Because paper was scarce, the Jewish boy traced the Hebrew letters in his book of Bible stories and drew in the margins. From a young age, Shahn also had a strong sense of justice, particularly after his father was banished to Siberia for demanding fair pay for working people. This eloquent picture-­book biography focuses on Shahn's path to becoming an artist after he and his family escaped to America. While overcoming the hardships of being an immigrant, Shahn apprenticed as a lithographer by day and attended art school at night. With an emphasis on landscapes, art school quickly discouraged Shahn, who wanted to tell stories through his art. Turk's expressive paintings with exaggerated features evoke the spirit of Shahn and the artist's depictions of the immigrant experience, working people, and protests. Levinson highlights three of Shahn's greatest accomplishments: his Sacco and Vanzetti series, photos of the Great Depression, and the Jersey Homesteads mural from the New Deal era. A concluding author's note provides more information on Shahn's personal life, his social realism style, and his influence on children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola. A thoughtful introduction to this social-justice artist.
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review ALA Booklist (2/1/21)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews (12/1/20)
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly (12/1/20)
Reading Level: 2.0
Interest Level: K-3

A lyrically told, exquisitely illustrated biography of influential Jewish artist and activist Ben Shahn "The first thing I can remember," Ben said, "I drew." As an observant child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn yearns to draw everything he sees--and, after seeing his father banished by the Czar for demanding workers' rights, he develops a keen sense of justice, too. So when Ben and the rest of his family make their way to America, Ben brings both his sharp artistic eye and his desire to fight for what's right. As he grows, he speaks for justice through his art--by disarming classmates who bully him because he's Jewish, by defying his teachers' insistence that he paint beautiful landscapes rather than true stories, by urging the US government to pass Depression-era laws to help people find food and jobs. In this moving and timely portrait, award-winning author Cynthia Levinson and illustrator Evan Turk honor an artist, immigrant, and activist whose work still resonates today: a true painter for the people.


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