Congratulations to Austin SCBWI member Cynthia Levinson, who just published her second nonfiction picture book, The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art! The book, illustrated by Evan Turk, came out from Abrams Books for Young Readers on April 20th.
As Cynthia describes him, “Ben Shahn was a prolific painter, muralist, photographer, calligrapher, stained-glass designer, and writer. A Jewish immigrant to America from Lithuania, he was bullied as a child for his religion and his accent. But he learned that he could disarm bullies by chalking their portraits on the sidewalk. Seeing that art had power, Shahn devoted his life to telling stories of justice through persuasive pictures and, often, carefully lettered words. His illustrations appeared in children’s books, an elementary school, and magazines for teenagers and adults, as well as in government buildings, museums, and galleries.”
Long before becoming a children’s writer, Cynthia met Shahn’s wife, Bernarda Bryson Shahn, at a high-school reunion; Bernarda had graduated from the same high school as Cynthia some 40 years earlier! More recently, as part of her research, Cynthia visited many of Shahn’s installations and interviewed his son and some of his neighbors in Roosevelt, New Jersey, where she also “peered through the dusty windows of his studio. I even trekked to the Bronx Post Office three times to try to see his large murals there but found it under construction every time!” Illustrator Evan Turk conducted extensive research for the book project as well. Cynthia notes that she is “especially gratified that Evan incorporated a common Hebrew phrase—’l’dor v’dor,’ which means ‘from generation to generation’—in the final spread, which shows an aged Ben with his hands on the shoulders of a grandchild, who is drawing, just as he did.”
The People’s Painter has been met with significant acclaim; it has been awarded a Junior Library Guild Gold Seal and has garnered starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.