Coryn and Vincent
I like to use my daughter's pre-existing interests, be they in pretty dresses and princesses or animals or Doctor Who, to tie into learning opportunities. I have done a lot of this regarding space (here, here, and here), and recently I thought I would try it out with some art appreciation (originally mentioned here).
There is an awesome Doctor Who episode called Vincent and the Doctor where the Doctor senses something is amiss in Vincent Van Gogh's timeline and goes back to visit, fight a monster, and help the troubled painter find some inspiration. I googled some of Van Gogh's paintings and showed Coryn what he had painted and then we were off to the library.
Similar to our study on space, I wanted to get a mix of fiction and non-fiction as well as some books that were "above her head" just to start introducing her to ideas. Since art is very visual, I also wanted some books where there were good, full page photos of the pictures in question.
Coryn's absolute favorite of all our choices was Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew, a story about a little girl's trip to the art museum where she learns she can jump in and out of several famous paintings by three different postimpressionist painters (a word you learn if you read the afterword which gives some biographical information about the painters): Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cezanne. The story is clever and really appealed to her and it does introduce a child to several famous paintings. The story is obviously fictional/fantasy and Coryn didn't want to sit through the biographical paragraphs at the end, but the main take away from this book is learning to recognize the works of different painters (Five famous paintings are shown in detail and a few more are in the background in the scenes that take place inside the museum rather than inside the paintings.). This is definitely one of the better art focused children's books I have read and it is now on Coryn's Amazon wishlist.
Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt is more historical. The story is about a young boy whose family befriended Van Gogh and whose picture he actually painted. While Coryn likes the fantastical storyline of Katie better, she did ask to read Camille more than once. The story does involve some details of how Van Gogh was treated poorly--children throwing rocks at him, people not appreciating his work--without touching on his depression and ultimate suicide (something that is dealt with to some extent in the Doctor Who episode so I was prepared to explain it though hoping I wouldn't have to), and Coryn was a little upset that the people in the story were mean to Van Gogh.
The First Starry Night by Joan Shaddox Isom has, in my opinion, the best illustrations of the bunch because the author was very good at producing pictures in the style of Van Gogh, but the story did not appeal to Coryn as much as the other fictional books we found. The story is told from the perspective of an orphan boy who befriends Van Gogh (I'm pretty sure the character is pure fiction) and does have some more details on his depression/illness. The main draw, however, is the pictures.
The non-fiction selections I made all turned out to be over Coryn's head. They had too much text, too many technical words, and not enough story. I did get them mainly for the pictures of of the pictures, however, because a lot of them had full page photos and detail photos and other illustrations that allow Coryn to get closer to the art if she so desires.
These include: Van Gogh (Famous Artists Series)
Vincent van Gogh
The last of which isn't "wordy" but just has a short line describing each picture on one page and a picture of one of the paintings or a detail from a painting on the other.
With art at this age, I think what is most important is just giving the child a sense that it is important and the rest is simply a matter of exposure. I'd like to do some art projects involving these paintings, but I haven't had the time to arrange it yet.