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Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists and Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers Review by Staff Writer

Mike Venezia

Mike Venezia is a genius. Seriously. He has taken the intimidating subjects of art and music history and not only made them understandable, but irresistible. If you are not familiar with his work, I urge you to take the time to visit his website, and then RUSH to your nearest bookstore and fill your library with anything that has the name Mike Venezia attached to it. Every book, from both of these series, is virtually a hand held guided museum tour – one that's hosted by a charming, sometimes hilarious, docent.

Venezia's books are short (app. 30 pages) and written in larger print and relatively simple sentences. They are written with the young reader in mind, and I don't think you will find a better curriculum for these subjects anywhere. My nine-year-old started with a book from the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composer series: Johann Sebastian Bach. She's kind of a chuckle-head, so she immediately took to the fun cartoons that Mr. Venezia includes in the books, which depict the subject in an entertaining animation that really brings the main idea down to a simple and practical understanding (Venezia's cartoon showing Bach's children playing music and doing chores at the same time is very, very cute – and reinforces the information that J.S. Bach was a good father who taught all of his children to do chores as well as trained them to play instruments). She was disappointed that his cartoons were not included on every page, but as a teacher, I appreciated the fact that Mr. Venezia integrated incredible art works, such as paintings by Baroque artists, pictures of Baroque German palaces, stunning portraits of the Bach family, and pictures of the land where they lived. The remarkable works can be found on nearly every page. I can't imagine the effort that went into tracking down all the famous works and getting permissions from the hundreds of museums that must have contributed to these books, but it certainly makes for a stunning experience.

These short books are easy to read and understand and I, personally, felt really smart finally learning (and understanding) a simple explanation of what 'Baroque' means! As my daughter read through the book she kept running over to explain all about Bach and some of the sad things that happened in his life. As a teacher, what more could you want? We played Bach music all throughout the day (NAXOS is a great resource for classical music) and talked about different aspects of Bach's life that we learned from the book. Some other titles in the 'Composers' series include Stravinsky, Sousa, Gershwin, Brahms, Chopin, Leonard Bernstein, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Aaron, Copland, Duke Ellington, Beethoven, and even the Beatles – which makes sense as these were all artists who had a huge impact on culture and society. The history of these artists and aspects of their personal lives are incredibly interesting to go through.

The Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers series is simply unrivaled in it's category. The only thing that comes close to equaling this truly incredible set is the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series, also by Mike Venezia. Titles include the lives and works of Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, Chagall, Norman Rockwell, Degas, Whistler, Delacroix, Remington, Seurat, Vermeer, Raphael, Lichtenstein, Da Vinci, Rivera, Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Paul Klee, Picasso, Rembrandt, Dali, Monet, Goya, Edward Hopper, Van Gogh, Rembrandt - the list goes on and on. Mike Venezia covers the greatest artists from every century, decade, and continent. I cannot do this series justice with words; you simply have to experience them for yourself.

If I could only chose one resource for an art program, this would be it. The books are just so engaging. We can't keep our hands off of them. Mike Venezia's sense of humor is charming, and I especially love his own ';works of art'; on the back cover of every book, which he claims are done with inspiration from the artist he was currently writing about. They are so funny (especially the self portrait of himself and his 'poked with a pencil bandaged finger' that he created during some stage of writing the Van Gogh book …it's not quite as dramatic as Van Gogh's self portrait with the bandaged missing ear, however, it sent me and my daughter into near hysterics).

Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series is wonderfully extensive. These two sets are a work of art in their own right. Both sets come in soft or hardback, and retail between $6 - $18 per book.

My children's education just went up about ten notches (so did mine!). Introduce the rich world of music and art to your children in a way that is fun and unbelievably easy to implement into the school day. I cannot recommend the Getting to Know the World's Greatest series highly enough. Mr. Venezia's resources are an absolute must have for any homeschool library. Plunge into these wonderful series with your whole family. It's perfect for the very young, but delightful for any age. You'll be amazed at all you learn.

For a fun introduction to Mike Venezia's world of famous composers and art education, go here for games and quizzes about famous artists. Your kids will love it! And it's free.

Publishers' Note: Just a quick comment regarding Grolier's Venezia books. We consider these biographies the number one source for young readers who need quick, general overviews of some of the world's top artists and composers. Venezia combines humor, color and high-interest commentary, creating a winning combination second to none. We highly endorse his work. Paul and Gena Suarez, Publishers, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine