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The People's Painter

How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art


Abrams Books for Young Readers

(pub.4.20.2021) 48 pages

Author: Cynthia Levinson

Illustrator: Evan Turk

Character: Ben Shahn

Overview: " '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." Tantalizing taste:

"And at school, Ben Stared at what seemed like thousands of letters in all different shapes and styles and sizes. All different from Hebrew. Even worse, bullies tormented him about his clothes and accent, and they called him names just because he was Jewish.

Sometime, though, they'd pause if he chalked their portraits on the sidewalk. No one drew people better than Ben."

And something more: Cynthia Levinson writes in the Author's Note: "I came to appreciate what Ben once told his student, children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola: 'Being an artist is not only what you do, but also how you live your life.'"


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