This week is National Children’s Book Week (May 4-10), a celebration of books and the joy of reading

RIFE WITH NARRATIVES about doing whatever it takes to overcome personal and societal challenges to pursue their dreams, the lives of artists and designers offer young readers invaluable life lessons with a dose of culture and history.

The experiences of Detroit artist Tyree Guyton offer a powerful example. The home of Motown and the birthplace of techno music, Detroit is also famous for The Heidelberg Project, a densely curated street installation composed of brightly painted houses covered in polka dots, art cars, and irreverent yard sculptures made with found objects.

A virtual outdoor museum, the project was founded by Guyton, a sculptor and painter who grew up on Heidelberg Street. At age 9, he was encouraged by his grandfather, a house painter, to pick up up a brush and “paint the world.”

A voracious collector of discarded treasures, Guyton painted everything he encountered—his grandfather’s ladder, wheels, shoes, bottle caps, license plates, toys, and small appliances—transforming abandoned castoffs into “Magic Trash.” He declared he was going to be an artist. His mother was dismayed at the pronouncement. His grandfather was delighted.

A voracious collector of discarded treasures, Tyree Guyton painted everything he encountered—his grandfather’s ladder, wheels, shoes, bottle caps, license plates, toys, and small appliances—transforming abandoned castoffs into ‘Magic Trash.’

Years later, after the 1967 riots and residents fleeing to the suburbs in subsequent years, homes on the block were abandoned and became blighted and overrun with trash and troublemakers. “Magic Trash: The Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art” unfurls the experiences of the artist and how he rescued his community, with the help of his grandfather and local children, transforming a poverty-stricken, chaotic scene into a riot of color.

“Tyree grabbed his brush and burrowed through rubbish. He cast spells on suitcases, toilets, and a slide trombone. Before the colors dried, Grandpa Sam hurried out to help,” author J.H. Shapiro writes. “They painted a busted bus. They tied shoes to trees. They flung broken bikes and cast-off tires on burned-out buildings and forgotten yards. And they painted Faces of God in blue, black, and orange. Their street sparkled.”

Once-doubtful neighbors and former troublemakers eventually joined in, too. Guyton covered houses in pink, blue, yellow, and purple and gave them joyful names such as “Fun House” and “Dotty Wotty.” The artist served in the U.S. Army, worked at an auto plant, and as a firefighter, but only found true fulfillment beautifying his community. For nearly 35 years tourists from around the world have been visiting the one-of-a-kind project.

Books about painter Frank Bowling; late artists Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) and Laura Wheeler Waring (1887-1948); fashion designer Ann Cole Lowe (1898-1981); architect Philip Freelon (1953-2019); and several other creatives, tell similarly uplifting and inspiring stories. CT


“Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art,” by J. H. Shapiro, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Charlesbridge, 32 pages, Ages 5-8). | Published Sept. 1, 2011


“Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt,” by Patricia C. McKissack, with illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera (Dragonfly Books, 48 pages, Ages 5-9). | First published in 2008. Paperback Oct. 4, 2016


“Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave,” by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, Ages 4-8). | Published Sept. 7, 2010


“Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist,” by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, Ages 4-8). | Published Oct. 13, 2015


“Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe,” by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated Laura Freeman ( little bee books, 40 pages, Agues 4-8). | Published by Jan. 17, 2017


“Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery,” by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 48 pages, Ages 4-8). | Published Jan. 23, 2018


“Grandpa and the Library: How Charles White Learned to Paint,” written and illustrated by the artist’s son C. Ian White (Museum of Modern Art, 40 pages). See Preview| Published Sept. 4, 2018


“Meet the Artist: Frank Bowling,” by Zoé Whitley, illustrated by Hélène Baum (Tate, 32 pages, Ages 5-7). | Published by Dec. 17, 2019


“Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon,” by Kelly Starling Lyons, with illustrations by Laura Freeman, and afterword by Philip Freelon (Lee & Low Books, 40 pages, Ages 4-9). | Published Jan. 14, 2020


“Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring,” by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Felicia Marshall (Creston Books, 32 pages, Ages 6-11). | Published Feb. 4, 2020


READ MORE about children’s books that tell artist’s stories on Culture Type: Black Art History: 10 Children’s Books Illuminate the Lives of Important African American Artists and Photographers


FIND MORE about Tyree Guyton’s current practice on his website

FIND MORE about Children’s Book Week 2020 #BookWeek2020atHome


Additional recent titles explore artists, historic figures, and the museum experience. “Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library” explores the life of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938) the historian whose collections formed the basis of the historic library in Harlem. “Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment,” recounts the experience of a little girl seeing, and being in awe of, First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait painted by Amy Sherald at the National Portrait Gallery. Also consider Simone Visits the Museum. Authored and charmingly illustrated by Vashti Harrison, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (including Alma Thomas, Augusta Savage, and Lorna Simpson) and “Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History” (including Jacob Lawrence, Aaron Douglas, Gordon Parks, and David Adjaye) are both rich with information about important historic figures who aren’t as well known as they should be. The latter is co-authored by Kwesi Johnson. “Women Artists A to Z” features 26 artists, including Betye Saar, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Elizabeth Catlett, Edmonia Lewis, Gee’s Bend quilters, Loïs Mailou Jones, and Xenobia Bailey.


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