Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson and Illustrated by Benny Andrews

Kathleen Benson’s (2015) Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews (Clarion Books) is a biographical art lesson about the life and works of Benny Andrews.

Born in Georgia, Andrews wanted to escape the life of working in the fields. Shortly after high school, Andrews joined the Air Force and eventually attends art school in Chicago. Benson weaves beautifully her prose text about the Andrews’s life and his art pieces throughout the text.

Here’s what I like about Draw What You See:

It’s about the power of art. Readers learn that Andrews uses his experiences – positive and negative – to inform his artwork. The book begins with telling readers that Andrews went to Louisiana after Katrina to help people express their feelings through art. Benson writes, “And he knew that sometimes it was easier to tell a story with pictures than with words.” The book’s illustrations serve as a gallery of Andrews’s work.

It’s an engaging nonfiction biography. I’m always looking for great nonfiction texts to share with my children’s literature students, and this will definitely be on my list.

If you’re thinking of using this book in your classroom, here are some teaching ideas:

(1) Have students create their autobiographies based on this book. They can include original illustrations or select others’ artwork to include.

(2) Ask students to pick one of the works in the book. Engage students in discussions about why Andrews might have selected to use realistic forms in this particular piece. What does realism allow Andrews to say in this piece?

Tell me what you think of Draw What You See in the comments below!

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