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

by Cynthia Levinson (Author) Evan Turk (Illustrator)

The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

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." Bold, richly layered multimedia illustrations by Turk feature abstracted characters in Shahn's style, while Levinson's smooth, well-researched narrative provides a comprehensive introduction to a justice-minded painter. Back matter includes an author's note, an illustrator's note, a timeline, and selected bibliography. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Well-researched and-sourced, this is a valuable addition to the canon of artist biographies. This life of an artist with a social conscience makes itself heard." — "Kirkus Reviews"
Cynthia Levinson
Since she doesn't draw or paint, Cynthia Levinson tells true stories about brave people, like Ben Shahn, and the injustices they've faced through words. She loves doing research, which has allowed her not only to visit Shahn's studio but also to walk with soldiers of the civil rights movement, fall off a tightwire, and read letters in a condemned building surrounded by police tape. Cynthia's books for young readers have won many awards. She lives in Austin and Boston. Evan Turk is an Ezra Jack Keats Book Award-winning illustrator, author, and animator. He is the author-illustrator of The Storyteller, You are Home: An Ode to the National Parks, and A Thousand Glass Flowers. He also illustrated Grandfather Gandhi and Muddy, a NYT Best Illustrated Children's Book. Originally from Colorado, Evan now lives in the Hudson River Valley with his husband and two cats. He is a graduate of Parsons School of Design and continues his studies through Dalvero Academy.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication date
April 20, 2021
Robert F Sibert International Book Award
Winner 2022
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

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