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

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An illustrated biography of 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 An illustrated biography of 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.


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An illustrated biography of 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 An illustrated biography of 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    With the suspension of the Goodreads Choice 2021 Picture Book category, I was of mixed feelings; first, my family yearly rates all the nominees, but we had in recent years been less impressed with the nominees (which Rod Brown found were often published by Amazon subsidiaries). So I consulted a couple sources for likely Caldecott Award nominees, and I asked a few people to read them with me; in general they are so much better than, for instance, last year’s GR bunch. As my kids get older, they h With the suspension of the Goodreads Choice 2021 Picture Book category, I was of mixed feelings; first, my family yearly rates all the nominees, but we had in recent years been less impressed with the nominees (which Rod Brown found were often published by Amazon subsidiaries). So I consulted a couple sources for likely Caldecott Award nominees, and I asked a few people to read them with me; in general they are so much better than, for instance, last year’s GR bunch. As my kids get older, they have mostly dropped out of the reading, but I still have anywhere from 2-4 readers with me this year. # 4, “The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art,” by Cynthia Levinson with illustrations by Evan Turk, is about a young boy who saw his father demand equal rights for workers and dedicated his life to using painting to do the same. R (retired librarian): (5 stars). Amazing story, illustrations, bio! One of my top 2-3 favorites of all the picture books we read. J (poet/arts educator): (5 stars). I loved the art! One of the best! T (electrician): (4.5 stars): Great story. I loved this. Dave (teacher): (4.5 stars): I especially like Ivan Turk’s expressionistic collage/watercolor paintings for this inspiring social justice artist about whom I knew nothing before. I liked the story a lot, but it has too many words for a young children's book, needs to be trimmed to be more evocative than thorough, imho.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    Wonderful introduction to Ben Shahn and how he used his art to address issues of social justice. There are so many people who were trail blazers in the fight for social equality; Ben Shahn was always aware of the intersection between art and the ability to influence the masses. But he suffered when the powers that be decided that he had gone 'off script' as far as his message. A book that is pertinent today as we all try to navigate the intersection between art and politics. Wonderful introduction to Ben Shahn and how he used his art to address issues of social justice. There are so many people who were trail blazers in the fight for social equality; Ben Shahn was always aware of the intersection between art and the ability to influence the masses. But he suffered when the powers that be decided that he had gone 'off script' as far as his message. A book that is pertinent today as we all try to navigate the intersection between art and politics.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    I love Ben Shahn, and the illustrations in this book do an incredible job of evoking his work without mimicry or parody. The text, however, is WAY too long. There's good content there, but holy cow it's long. I love Ben Shahn, and the illustrations in this book do an incredible job of evoking his work without mimicry or parody. The text, however, is WAY too long. There's good content there, but holy cow it's long.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art is a children's picture book written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Evan Turk. It centers on Ben Shahn, who melds art and protest perfectly. Ben Shahn was a Lithuanian-born American artist. He is best known for his works of social realism, his left-wing political views, and his series of lectures published as "The Shape of Content". Levinson's text is rather simplistic, straightforward, and informative. Levinson's smooth, well The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art is a children's picture book written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Evan Turk. It centers on Ben Shahn, who melds art and protest perfectly. Ben Shahn was a Lithuanian-born American artist. He is best known for his works of social realism, his left-wing political views, and his series of lectures published as "The Shape of Content". Levinson's text is rather simplistic, straightforward, and informative. Levinson's smooth, well-researched narrative provides a comprehensive introduction to a justice-minded painter. Backmatter includes an author's note, an illustrator's note, a timeline, Yiddish glossary, and selected bibliography. Bold, richly layered multimedia illustrations by Turk feature abstracted characters in Shahn's style. The premise of the book is rather straightforward. This profile of Jewish artist and activist Ben Shahn, who emigrated from Lithuania to America in 1906, highlights the threads of compassion and social justice that ran through his work. Shahn learned of injustice early in his life, witnessing his father's banishment to Siberia for demanding fair pay for working people, and later experiencing anti-Semitism in America. Leaving school at age 14 to help support his family, Shahn attended art school at night while apprenticed to a lithographer. An unjust execution spurred Shahn's social realism paintings, attention to which resulted in the U.S. government hiring him to take photographs across America that revealed hard lives in troubled times. All in all, The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art is an engaging account of a life of an artist with a social conscience makes itself heard.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    As a fan of Cynthia Levinson, Evan Turk, and Ben Shahn, I have been eagerly waiting to see this book. It surpassed my expectations. As she always does so well, Levinson finds a timeless and important theme in Shahn's story—as an immigrant/refugee who persisted in telling his own stories of social justice through his art. Evan Turk conveys drama and the spirit of Shahn in his gorgeous illustrations. It's a must-purchase for me, and hopefully for every school and library as well! As a fan of Cynthia Levinson, Evan Turk, and Ben Shahn, I have been eagerly waiting to see this book. It surpassed my expectations. As she always does so well, Levinson finds a timeless and important theme in Shahn's story—as an immigrant/refugee who persisted in telling his own stories of social justice through his art. Evan Turk conveys drama and the spirit of Shahn in his gorgeous illustrations. It's a must-purchase for me, and hopefully for every school and library as well!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    An exceptionally written and illustrated picture book biography of the "social realist" artist. Levinson's accessible, thoughtfully crafted text is beautifully complemented with Evan Turk's bold, expressive, richly layered illustrations. An exceptionally written and illustrated picture book biography of the "social realist" artist. Levinson's accessible, thoughtfully crafted text is beautifully complemented with Evan Turk's bold, expressive, richly layered illustrations.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laura Harrison

    One of my top five favorite picture books of 2021. Fascinating text and Caldecott worthy illustrations. It is high time for Evan Turk to win a Caldecott!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    4.5 Stars. The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art is a children's picture book written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Evan Turk. It tells about the artist, Ben Shahn, who was concerned with justice and expressed his feelings beautifully through his art. He loved to draw and to share stories through his art. I wasn't familiar with Ben Shahn, and appreciated the historical information and timeline included in the book. Evan Turk's illustrations have a post-impressio 4.5 Stars. The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art is a children's picture book written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Evan Turk. It tells about the artist, Ben Shahn, who was concerned with justice and expressed his feelings beautifully through his art. He loved to draw and to share stories through his art. I wasn't familiar with Ben Shahn, and appreciated the historical information and timeline included in the book. Evan Turk's illustrations have a post-impressionist feeling that I really like. While, I enjoyed the story written by Cynthia Levinson, I think that the text is too long and involved for young children.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I love a book's ability to teach us about something we didn't know and show us an appreciation for it. I didn't know about Ben Shahn before I read this book. He was quite the accomplished artist. I liked in the Author's Note where a student had said, "You just have to look at it, and you see the story." I love a book's ability to teach us about something we didn't know and show us an appreciation for it. I didn't know about Ben Shahn before I read this book. He was quite the accomplished artist. I liked in the Author's Note where a student had said, "You just have to look at it, and you see the story."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Dobrez

    WOW. I hadn't seen this book until today after it won the 2022 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children earlier this week. What a treasure it is...at times heartbreaking, but mostly inspirational, and it's beautifully told and strikingly illustrated. I would guess it is always challenging to illustrate a book about an artist but I loved the detail in the back that illustrator Evan Turk had done a 5th-grade research project on Shahn. I hope WOW. I hadn't seen this book until today after it won the 2022 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children earlier this week. What a treasure it is...at times heartbreaking, but mostly inspirational, and it's beautifully told and strikingly illustrated. I would guess it is always challenging to illustrate a book about an artist but I loved the detail in the back that illustrator Evan Turk had done a 5th-grade research project on Shahn. I hope many other 5th graders now will see this book and dig into the life and work of Ben Shahn.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This book is a wonderful tribute to an artist who was passionate about illustrating social injustice and bringing it to public awareness. The illustrations are amazing! I appreciated the separate notes from the author and the illustrator at the end, in addition to a timeline, which provides "snapshots of Ben Shahn's life" and "The bigger Picture," the world events going on at that time. Favorite quote: "Ben drew until the end of his life, handing down his stories of justice from generation to gen This book is a wonderful tribute to an artist who was passionate about illustrating social injustice and bringing it to public awareness. The illustrations are amazing! I appreciated the separate notes from the author and the illustrator at the end, in addition to a timeline, which provides "snapshots of Ben Shahn's life" and "The bigger Picture," the world events going on at that time. Favorite quote: "Ben drew until the end of his life, handing down his stories of justice from generation to generation."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dax

    Beautiful and uniquely put together junior biography that will inspire you to step out and speak out!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tina Hoggatt

    The life story of Ben Shahn, immigrant and social justice painter, whose style influenced American fine and graphic arts. With an emphasis on Shahn's forthrightness, his passion for justice, and his artwork, this is a stalwart biography, beautifully illustrated by Evan Turk who takes Shahn's style and makes it his own. Additional back matter gives an overview and textual snapshots of his life. The life story of Ben Shahn, immigrant and social justice painter, whose style influenced American fine and graphic arts. With an emphasis on Shahn's forthrightness, his passion for justice, and his artwork, this is a stalwart biography, beautifully illustrated by Evan Turk who takes Shahn's style and makes it his own. Additional back matter gives an overview and textual snapshots of his life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carol V

    Ben Shahn - a child with a dream. He lived from 1898 - 1969. His family immigrated to America in early 1900s. He painted stories that were able to bring justice to all people of all status, culture, and culture. He painted for President Roosevelt in 1937. This is an excellent book to kick off so many units of study and thought, grades 4th and up. The illustrations are worthy of a historical study, as well. Ben Shahn's illustrations had a big influence of Evan Turk's work in this book. Together, a Ben Shahn - a child with a dream. He lived from 1898 - 1969. His family immigrated to America in early 1900s. He painted stories that were able to bring justice to all people of all status, culture, and culture. He painted for President Roosevelt in 1937. This is an excellent book to kick off so many units of study and thought, grades 4th and up. The illustrations are worthy of a historical study, as well. Ben Shahn's illustrations had a big influence of Evan Turk's work in this book. Together, author, Cynthia Levinson, and illustrator, Evan Turk, bring to life the dreams of Ben Shahn, artist for the people. Fact is, the same stories of justice for Americans are still in the news. Some budding artist that might read this book could be inspired to continue in Ben Shahn's footsteps.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shoshanna

    Beautiful and inspiring!!!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I had no idea this man existed and now I am inspired to find all of his art.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Such a lovely book images are dynamic

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    This is just absolutely damn wonderful. The combo of Evan Turk and Ben Shahn had me poring over every page.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josie Stewart

    What an important book about an artist I knew very little about.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Read for Librarian Book Group I think the art was supposed to make a point about the subject's style, but I found it messy and off-putting. Read for Librarian Book Group I think the art was supposed to make a point about the subject's style, but I found it messy and off-putting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aolund

    Growing up in a shtetl in Lithuania, Ben Shahn practiced noticing (and standing up to) injustice wherever he saw it and drew whenever he got the chance. Upon immigrating to the US with his family as a child, after his father was deported to Siberia by the Czar for supporting worker's rights, Ben continued these early practices of his, and developed a career and perspective as an artist that was based around centering the marginalized and documenting those who stood up against injustice and for t Growing up in a shtetl in Lithuania, Ben Shahn practiced noticing (and standing up to) injustice wherever he saw it and drew whenever he got the chance. Upon immigrating to the US with his family as a child, after his father was deported to Siberia by the Czar for supporting worker's rights, Ben continued these early practices of his, and developed a career and perspective as an artist that was based around centering the marginalized and documenting those who stood up against injustice and for their beliefs. This artist biography is engaging and inspiring. Incorporating many big topics and big stories, The People's Painter is nonetheless an accessible read for early elementary audiences and provides a lot of opportunity for discussing protest, injustice, workers rights, immigration, anti-Semitism, art, and intersectionality. Illustrations are gorgeous. Themes: protest, injustice, workers rights, immigration, anti-Semitism, art, stand up, use your voice!, family, Judaism Age range: Kindergarten-Elementary

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mutually Inclusive

    This wonderful picture book biography details the life of Ben Shahn, a Jewish artist, immigrant, and activist who used his discerning sense of justice and artistic talent to bring awareness to social issues throughout his career – issues such as the executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927, the struggles of rural Americans during the Great Depression, and much more. Beginning with his childhood in Lithuania, where Ben’s father was banished for demanding worker’s rights, The Peop This wonderful picture book biography details the life of Ben Shahn, a Jewish artist, immigrant, and activist who used his discerning sense of justice and artistic talent to bring awareness to social issues throughout his career – issues such as the executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927, the struggles of rural Americans during the Great Depression, and much more. Beginning with his childhood in Lithuania, where Ben’s father was banished for demanding worker’s rights, The People’s Painter teaches young readers about Ben Shahn’s passion for justice. Following his immigration to America, we learn the ways Ben Shahn pushed back against his teachers’ ideas of art. The People’s Painter is not only educational, but a great resource to encourage children to expose injustice and stand up for marginalized communities the same way Ben Shahn did — by finding their voice and following it. The illustrations by Evan Turk feature bold expressive paintings, drawing parallels to Shahn’s work, creating the perfect backdrop for his story. Cynthia Levinson is the author of The Youngest Marcher and the winner of both the Crystal Kite and Carter G. Woodson awards. Please visit her website at cynthialevinson.com to learn more about her and her work. Evan Turk is an author, animator, and Ezra Jack Keats Book Award–winning illustrator. To learn more about him and his work, please visit his website at evanturk.squarespace.com. I would like to thank Abrams Books For Young Readers for providing me a copy of this wonderful book. I can’t think of a better title for World Art Day, and I’m so honored to share Ben Shahn’s story with you all today. Blog | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads | Storygraph

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    I had never heard of this Jewish artist until I read this picture book biography about him. Apparently, one of his main claims to fame is a series of paintings of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who were executed for murder. Many people believed them to be innocent. So, the biography was interesting enough, and the back matter included additional info about Shahn, a timeline, an illustrator's note, and an extensive bibliography. However, I heartily disliked Evan Turk's ugly artwork. I I had never heard of this Jewish artist until I read this picture book biography about him. Apparently, one of his main claims to fame is a series of paintings of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who were executed for murder. Many people believed them to be innocent. So, the biography was interesting enough, and the back matter included additional info about Shahn, a timeline, an illustrator's note, and an extensive bibliography. However, I heartily disliked Evan Turk's ugly artwork. In his note, he stated that he painted in gouache, with bits of pencil, chalk, acrylic paint, and linoleum block printing. The people looked distorted, and the colors were harsh and clashing. Nowhere in the book were there any samples of Shahn's own artwork, which I think was a mistake in a book about an artist.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I keep looking at the cover, and feeling uncertain. Do I like it? Is it welcoming? Does it make me want to see what's inside? I don't know. But I looked, just the same. And the story of Ben Shahn, as portrayed in this book, offers a story of someone who spoke up and spoke out. Not ostentatiously or loudly, but consistently and with strength. From the time he was a child and his father was sent to Siberia, to when he was grown and faced the House Un-American Activities Committee. His art ranged fro I keep looking at the cover, and feeling uncertain. Do I like it? Is it welcoming? Does it make me want to see what's inside? I don't know. But I looked, just the same. And the story of Ben Shahn, as portrayed in this book, offers a story of someone who spoke up and spoke out. Not ostentatiously or loudly, but consistently and with strength. From the time he was a child and his father was sent to Siberia, to when he was grown and faced the House Un-American Activities Committee. His art ranged from drawings to paintings to lithographs to photographs, and while I was not familiar with his name, his style is one that echoes book covers and illustrations I've seen before. And the more I looked, the more I found to enjoy in this style. A stellar biography. Includes Author's Note, Illustrator's Note, Timeline, and Bibliography.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    An outstanding short biography with robust sources and such wonderful illustrations by Evan Turk, reminiscent for me somewhat of Picasso's Guernica style. Shelved in the juvenile non-fiction section and looking like a picture book, this work is so much more., It's an excellent introduction to Ben Shahn's life and work. Adults will appreciate it as much as the target group - children 8 and up. I highly recommend. An outstanding short biography with robust sources and such wonderful illustrations by Evan Turk, reminiscent for me somewhat of Picasso's Guernica style. Shelved in the juvenile non-fiction section and looking like a picture book, this work is so much more., It's an excellent introduction to Ben Shahn's life and work. Adults will appreciate it as much as the target group - children 8 and up. I highly recommend.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tara Schaafsma

    I loved this story. I did not know about him as an artist.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Outstanding picture book biography of the artist Ben Shahn. The text is excellent and incorporates a wealth of background information for young readers without lessening the interest level. Evan Turk's gorgeous illustrations are created in gouache, acrylic, pencils, chalk and linoleum block prints and are a terrific homage to Shahn's style. Excellent back matter is included. The book just won the Robert F. Sibert Award. Outstanding picture book biography of the artist Ben Shahn. The text is excellent and incorporates a wealth of background information for young readers without lessening the interest level. Evan Turk's gorgeous illustrations are created in gouache, acrylic, pencils, chalk and linoleum block prints and are a terrific homage to Shahn's style. Excellent back matter is included. The book just won the Robert F. Sibert Award.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shaye Miller

    This book was on my #MustReadin2022 list as it was a Sibert Medal winner for (2022). I knew nothing about Ben Shahn before this lovely picture book, so I'd say it was a very important read! This book was on my #MustReadin2022 list as it was a Sibert Medal winner for (2022). I knew nothing about Ben Shahn before this lovely picture book, so I'd say it was a very important read!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Darlene Ivy

    A powerful bio of a painter that followed his conscience and made his work a political statement. Interesting illustrations that sort of reflect Shahn's style. I didn't know Shah's work and researched to find some of his work. Those images helped me appreciate the story more. A powerful bio of a painter that followed his conscience and made his work a political statement. Interesting illustrations that sort of reflect Shahn's style. I didn't know Shah's work and researched to find some of his work. Those images helped me appreciate the story more.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Picture book biographies are my favorite - Cynthia Levinson tells the story of Ben Shahn, "The People's Painter." Ben was an activist from an early age and when his Tate was banished to Siberia for demanding fair pay for working people, Ben started speaking out and drawing to voice his concerns. Later, Ben painted people and told their stories through art. He was even hired by the United States government to paint portraits during the Great Depression. Evan Turk's portrayal of Ben's art is amazing Picture book biographies are my favorite - Cynthia Levinson tells the story of Ben Shahn, "The People's Painter." Ben was an activist from an early age and when his Tate was banished to Siberia for demanding fair pay for working people, Ben started speaking out and drawing to voice his concerns. Later, Ben painted people and told their stories through art. He was even hired by the United States government to paint portraits during the Great Depression. Evan Turk's portrayal of Ben's art is amazing! The colors and intricate scenes of injustice and struggle made me feel for the people, as Ben did. This book is a must-read for middle schoolers and up. Highly recommended for my art students and others who seek to find justice in creative ways.

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