7th April 2000 at 01:00
THE LIFE AND WORK OF: Mary Cassatt. Paul Cezanne. Vincent van Gogh. Paul Klee. Claude Monet. Henry Moore. Leonardo da Vinci. Heinemann First Library, pound;8.99 each. THE USBORNE BOOK OF ART IDEAS. Usborne pound;12.99.

Visual art can be confusing and intimidating. Very young children are often open and inquisitive in their enjoyment of looking at paintings and sculpture, but as they grow older they become less confident. The Life and Work of series represents an excellent jumping-off point for children by making the ideas behind the art and the lives of the artists who made it accessible.

These books are beautifully and simply set out and pack an enormous amount of information into remarkably few words, conveying clearly the range and development of a body of work. The selection of photographs and art reproductions is superb, and a time chart, simple glossary of key words and suggestions for further reading makes them extremely user friendly.

The work of an artist like Paul Klee is not easy to understand, but by showing his early, traditional landscapes, the Klee book makes it easier for youngsters to comprehend how his work matured. At the end of the book, a photograph of Klee shortly before he died next to one of his later, dark, more abstract portrait paintings, is extremely enlightening.

On the whole these are enticing, attractive books that work well and serve a good purpose, but there is one element of confusion. Illustrations of the artists at work are often rendered in theirpersonal style. For example, an illustration of Van Gogh working in his studio is done in the Van Gogh style. As part of the national curriculum, pupils are required to interpret the style of artists, and these illustrations certainly help them to see how it can be done, but it will not always be clear to young readers that they are not the work of the artists themselves.

The quality, style and simplicity of The Usborne Book of Art Ideas deliciously attractive book should make it the faithful companion of any child, parent or teacher who wishes to make bold, exciting images with paint, crayon and pastel.

It offers an easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach to creating images with acrylic, poster paint, cardboard prints, wax resist and blow paintings - to mention just a few of the many materials and techniques outlined here. The aim is to encourage a bold, experimental approach and to engender confidence as quickly as possible.

As with all good, simple cookery books, the recipes provide the basis for endless adaptation and variation. Unlike many art and craft books which are fussily ambitious and overly complex, often leading to all-round frustration, this book outlines feasible techniques that can produce good effects in a relatively short time, and will excite and encourage children across a wide age range to persist with their own independent explorations in creativity.

The Usborne Book of Art Ideas is being reprinted and will be availabe at the beginning of May

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