Sunday, June 29, 2008

CURRICULUM REVIEW: Mike Venezia's Getting to Know... Series

Mike Venezia is the author and illustrator of some really great books for children that we have used over and over again in our years of homeschooling. He is the genius behind Getting to Know, Inc., having written and drawn the illustrations for Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists and Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers. In checking out his website for this review, I notice that he's added a third series, Getting to Know the United States Presidents. And also branched out into DVDs on all three series. Go, Mike!

Here's why we love these books: Intended for students aged 9-12, they're fun and interesting to read, covering the artist's (or composer's) biography, plus a basic explanation of the artist's style (Renaissance, Impressionism, etc.) and numerous depictions of the artist's actual art in the book. (I'm thinking that the beauty of the DVDs is that you'd be able not only to see the artist's art on your television screen, but also hear the works of great composers. Kind of hard to hear music from a little paperback book.)

For instance, in Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists: Mary Cassatt, Venezia tells the reader about Cassatt's background as an American woman trying to break into the male-dominated world of art of France in the 1880s. He briefly explains her meeting with Edgar Degas and his contemporaries Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro, with examples of some of their most famous works (Girl with a Watering Can for Renoir; ballet dancers for Degas) and how Degas became her mentor as Cassatt experimented with Impressionism and grew in style and technique to become one of the most famous artists of the period.

Venezia offers forty-seven titles in his Artists series, everyone from Botticelli to Dali to Edward Hopper.

The books on composers are just as good, with the one drawback that you can't hear the music. So I'm putting in a plug for the DVDs, thinking that, without ever seeing one, if they're as good as the books, they'd be well worth the money. The titles in the Composers series range from Tchaikovsky to Duke Ellington to the Beatles, which I really think is an awesome scope.

These books are paperback, a short read at around 32 pages each and -- here's the best bit -- retailing for $6.95 each at You also have the option to buy the entire sets at Mike Venezia's website.

In my opinion, these books are can't-miss options for your children. They'd be great combined with Aline D. Wolf's Montessori classic, How to Use Child-Sized Masterpieces for Art Appreciation, which is another little curriculum we've gotten a lot of mileage from.

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