Professional Practice

8 Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Books in sunshine

Now that summer is finally here, teachers can focus their attention on self-care, creating art, and other activities for personal enjoyment. Many of us enjoy getting lost in a good book, but finding time to do so during the school year can be difficult. Now’s the time to make a dent in your summer reading list!

Your personal list may be full of mysteries, romance, or science fiction, but there are also a lot of great books out there for art lovers. Take some time this summer to explore books that reignite your passion for art. You may even find a few to share with students in the next school year!

Books in sunshine

8 Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List

1. An Artist Once Said: An Inspiration Book

This is a great book to reach for whenever you need a little motivation from some of your favorite artists. The illustrated pages feature quotes from artists like Kahlo, Warhol, Dali, and more. In addition to quotes and illustrations, the pages of the book also serve as places to sketch, write notes, doodle, or use in any way you see fit.

This would be a great book to keep in your studio space, or near your art supplies at home. When inspiration strikes, you can turn to a new page and get your daily dose of wisdom from some of the great artists of our time. If you have a creative block, you could use the space provided to sketch in whatever a particular quote inspires you to create.

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In the Classroom: You may find that you enjoy this process so much that you bring it back to the classroom with your next school year! Quotes can be a great introduction to the artist. You can have some interesting class discussions with students sharing what they think the artist meant. Several quotes can be used as drawing prompts for students to make personal connections to the artist’s words. Once students have made their own interpretations, you can start to share some of the artist’s artwork with students. Ask them what style or type of artwork they imagined the artist would create based on the quote provided. There are a lot of applications for using artist quotes with students. This book can be an excellent resource for your classroom library!

2. Latin American Posters: Public Aesthetics and Mass Politics

This collection of poster designs is an excellent study of graphic design, as well as political and social art. Although the book features posters from as far back as the 1950s, many of these issues are still relevant today. In addition to the collection of posters, this book also features essays that explain the social and political climate and give context to the work. If you or someone you know loves graphic design as well as history, this would be a great book to add to your summer reading list.

In the Classroom: The book would also be an excellent addition to a high school art classroom library. Students could choose a poster to analyze the style, influence, and how the artist communicated a message through symbolism and text. This would be a powerful resource for teachers who facilitate lessons on art with a social message and address social issues in the classroom.

3. Colourful Condition/The Mechanics of Happiness

David Shillinglaw is a British artist based in London. His work focuses on issues of identity and the human condition. While these topics can seem heavy or hard to digest, Shillinglaw does so with bright colors, diagrams, anatomical studies, and landscapes. He describes his work as “About people. Human nature. Both the civilized and monstrous, the stupid and articulate.”

Shillinglaw’s work ranges from small sketchbook pieces to large murals found all over the world. He produces prints, books, and zines. Colourful Condition features a collection of Shillinglaw’s work that ranges from drawings, paintings to album art. The work depicts the ups and downs of life, something that everyone can relate to.

In the Classroom: You could share these books with students of any age as an example of how contemporary artists are not limited to creating just one form of art. Shillinglaw’s work shares a common language of symbols and colors but is applied to different media, surfaces, and outlets. Have your students create their own mind maps inspired by his work. Ask them to stick to a limited color palette and express in a few words or phrases what’s on their minds. As students share, they can start to make connections with their peers on common experiences.

4. The Hero Within

The Hero Within is a great book for teachers of young students. The story follows a boy who is challenged by his teacher to complete an assignment about an unsung hero. The boy learns many lessons along the way about what it means to be a hero and discovers how his grandfather has a heroic past. The book is beautifully illustrated by artist and high school art teacher, Brad LeDuc.

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In the Classroom: Teachers can add this book to their classroom libraries and share the story with students. This would be a great springboard for a project that honors local heroes, or unsung heroes who have made a positive impact on the course of history. Students could create an artwork that honors a selected hero and do some research to share with the class. Project-based learning like this can help students learn about the power a single individual can have to make a change in his or her own community.

5. Babu and Bina at the Ghost Party/Princess for a Day

Author P. Tomar has created a series of books based on her childhood in India, called Babu and Bina. The characters are elephant siblings who go on different adventures with other friendly animals. The stories are filled with magic and mythology. The author started this series as a way to encourage children to pursue their dreams and live life passionately.

In Babu and Bina at the Ghost Party, Tomar concludes the story with pictures and information for history buffs. While in India, Babu and Bina are visited by ghosts of Maharajas and Maharanis. The book also includes a glossary of Hindi terms and provides the reader with a glimpse of India’s rich cultural heritage and history.

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In the Classroom: Young students will love reading about these adventures. Art teachers will appreciate the beautiful pages illustrated by Giulia Iacopini. If you teach your students about art from India, these can be great stories to include while students are working, or that students could read independently if they finish early. Art teachers should strive to include stories from all over the world to share with their students. Tomar’s Babu and Bina series would be a great addition to your classroom!

Summer Reading

6. A Little Mud from the Nile

Speaking of creating a classroom library with stories from around the world, A Little Mud from the Nile follows a young girl named Talmai in her adventures in Egypt! Written and illustrated by elementary school art teacher, Nicole Bussan, this book would be a perfect resource to share while teaching about Egyptian art and pottery.

In the Classroom: The story gives readers insight into daily life in Egypt. Talmai uses clay she finds along the Nile River to create a coiled vessel. She watches men rolling stones up a ramp to build the pharaoh’s pyramid. Her father works in the wheat field. Her mother helps her fire her clay vessel and grind stones in to thicken the paint for decoration. As Talmai’s adventure continues, her clay pot made of a little mud from the Nile becomes very useful.

7. Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus

Photographer, Rachelle Lee Smith, created this award-winning photographic essay that shares a variety of experiences from the perspective of LGBTQ+ young people, ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-four. The portraits are taken in front of a stark white backdrop, and each subject uses this as a blank space to handwrite their personal thoughts. The finished prints reveal the individual’s experiences with confusion, prejudice, joy, and sorrow.

Summer Reading

This can be an inspiring read for any teacher of young students. The book will give you an insight to an underserved and sometimes overlooked group of students in your classroom. These students are seldom heard and often silenced. By including this book in your classroom library, you can show your support for the LGBTQ+ community. You can also create a dialogue with students who may identify with some of the same themes and commonalities regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

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In the Classroom: The book would be a great inspiration for a portrait photography lesson. Students could photograph one another against a white background. You could do this in almost any setting, with little to no technology. Students could use camera phones, or donated digital cameras to photograph their classmates. The printed photos could then be given to the subjects for their added thoughts using markers, colored pencils, ink, etc.

8. The People You May See

This book was written and illustrated by Lisa Koehler specifically for children. Children have a natural curiosity about what they see. This book can be a guide to approach discussions with children about people who may look different from them. The world is full of unique individuals who sometimes wear, say, or do things young children don’t yet understand. This book and its accompanying illustrations will help children better understand the experiences of the people they may see.

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In the Classroom: Art teachers will appreciate the beautiful illustrations in this book, and could easily reference them for a portrait drawing lesson. Portrait drawing examples are all pretty generic and don’t necessarily reflect the great diversity in our world. Teachers can show the illustrations of what a portrait drawing might look like for a woman wearing a hijab, a boy with a cochlear implant, or a girl with a limb reduction. Representation and inclusion are really important in any classroom. This book can be a great guide, and an example of the different individuals students may see in their school or community.

Final Thoughts

Books can be an escape from reality. This school year in particular was more challenging than most. Now that it’s summer, take some time to get lost in the stories, pictures, and adventures these books have to offer. Enjoy them for yourself now, and consider sharing these books with your students next school year when you are finally reunited!

What books are on your summer reading list?

How do you organize your classroom library?

What book made an impact on you as a child?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jordan DeWilde

Jordan DeWilde, a high school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. He aims to encourage students’ individual creativity through a diverse and inclusive curriculum.

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