The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art (Hardcover)
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A lyrically told, exquisitely illustrated biography of influential Jewish artist and activist Ben Shahn
A 2022 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal Winner
A 2022 Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Picture Book
“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.
About the Author
Since she doesn’t draw or paint, Cynthia Levinson tells true stories about brave people, like Ben Shahn, and the injustices they’ve faced through words. She loves doing research, which has allowed her not only to visit Shahn’s studio but also to walk with foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, fall off a tightwire, and read letters housed in a condemned building surrounded by yellow police tape. Cynthia’s books for young readers have won many awards. She lives in Austin and Boston.
"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. . . A thoughtful introduction to this social justice artist."
"Levinson’s text moves in a smooth, accessible flow. Turk, a professed devotee of Shahn’s work, is quite possibly the ideal illustrator for this title. . . A marvelous spur to kids beginning to consider the way art can be political."
— Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Levinson skillfully shows the artist’s relatable qualities, such as when young Ben refuses to name names after a classroom prank. Her celebratory text is well-complemented by Turk’s strong and distinctively bold, colorful, mixed-media art... Excellent."
— The Horn Book Magazine
"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."
— Publishers Weekly
"Well-researched and-sourced, this is a valuable addition to the canon of artist biographies. This life of an artist with a social conscience makes itself heard."
— Kirkus Reviews