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



by
Cynthia Levinson
illustrated by
Evan Turk

Edition
Hardcover edition
Publisher
Abrams
Imprint
Abrams
ISBN
9781419741302
POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
Discrimination: Religious
$21.06   $17.55
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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.Yiddish glossary and pronunciation guide. Author’s note. Illustrator’s note. Time line. Selected bibliography. Source notes. Full-color illustrations made with gouache, acrylic, pencil, chalk, and linoleum block prints.

 

POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
Discrimination: Religious

Details

Format

Print

Page Count

48

Trim Size

10" x 10"

Dewey

B

AR

0: points 0

Genre

Nonfic

Scholastic Reading Counts

0

JLG Release

Aug 2021

Book Genres

Autobiography/Biography, Picture Book

Topics

Ben Shahn (1898–1969). Lithuania. US painters. Social justice in art. Jewish artists. Twentieth-century US history. Emigration and immigration.

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Praise & Reviews

Horn Book

Ben Shahn (1898–1969) was known as “the people’s painter” because his art told real stories about real people. Levinson and Turk here team up to tell Shahn’s own story, from his Jewish family’s immigration from Lithuania to the U.S. when he was a child, to his teenage years (lithographer by day, art student by night), to his fame as an artist who would “portray stories of people clamoring for their rights. Civil rights activists. Workers demanding fair pay. Political protesters. Advocates for peace.” From an early age Ben was passionate about calling out injustice—after his father was imprisoned for speaking out in favor of worker’s rights, Ben “marched up to the sentry at the end of the street and shouted, ‘Down with the Czar!’” He also loved to create art, and used his work to tell stories, despite his teachers’ insistence that “pictures should be beautiful—not real life.” Through the years, Ben ignored this dictum and made a name for himself with his social realist art, which brought him a wide audience. Levinson skillfully shows the artist’s relatable qualities, such as when young Ben refuses to name names after a classroom prank (“I’m not going to tell who did it…and I’m not going to pay for something I didn’t do”). Her celebratory text is well-complemented by Turk’s strong and distinctively bold, colorful, mixed-media art. Turk uses forced perspective to show Ben standing up to injustice despite his diminutive size, while hands feature in nearly every spread—fists raised in resistance, palms opened upwards in plea, fingers clasped together in farewell—further heightening emotional impact. A Yiddish glossary and pronunciation guide, author’s and illustrator’s notes, a timeline, a selected biography, and source notes round out this excellent picture-book biography. SAM BLOOM

Praise & Reviews

Horn Book

Ben Shahn (1898–1969) was known as “the people’s painter” because his art told real stories about real people. Levinson and Turk here team up to tell Shahn’s own story, from his Jewish family’s immigration from Lithuania to the U.S. when he was a child, to his teenage years (lithographer by day, art student by night), to his fame as an artist who would “portray stories of people clamoring for their rights. Civil rights activists. Workers demanding fair pay. Political protesters. Advocates for peace.” From an early age Ben was passionate about calling out injustice—after his father was imprisoned for speaking out in favor of worker’s rights, Ben “marched up to the sentry at the end of the street and shouted, ‘Down with the Czar!’” He also loved to create art, and used his work to tell stories, despite his teachers’ insistence that “pictures should be beautiful—not real life.” Through the years, Ben ignored this dictum and made a name for himself with his social realist art, which brought him a wide audience. Levinson skillfully shows the artist’s relatable qualities, such as when young Ben refuses to name names after a classroom prank (“I’m not going to tell who did it…and I’m not going to pay for something I didn’t do”). Her celebratory text is well-complemented by Turk’s strong and distinctively bold, colorful, mixed-media art. Turk uses forced perspective to show Ben standing up to injustice despite his diminutive size, while hands feature in nearly every spread—fists raised in resistance, palms opened upwards in plea, fingers clasped together in farewell—further heightening emotional impact. A Yiddish glossary and pronunciation guide, author’s and illustrator’s notes, a timeline, a selected biography, and source notes round out this excellent picture-book biography. SAM BLOOM

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