Beautiful Shades of Brown

Here’s another Perfect Picture Book for Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Laura Wheeler Waring spoke through her art, painting people she saw in her life but absent from galleries. Nancy Churnin’s latest picture book, gorgeously illustrated by Felicia Marshall, tells how Waring persevered to find her place in the art world. 

NANCY CHURNIN IS GENEROUSLY OFFERING A GIVEAWAY!! Just leave a comment after the post for a chance to win a copy of Beautiful Shades of Brown. (US addresses) Winner announced 2/28. 

9781939547651_p0_v2_s600x595Title: Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Written by: Nancy Churnin

Illustrated by: Felicia Marshall

Creston, 2020, biography

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes/topics: art, African American history

Laura loved the color brown. She loved her mother’s chocolate-colored hair, her father’s caramel coat, and all the different browns in the cheeks of her younger sister and brothers.

Growing up in the late 19th century, Laura Wheeler Waring didn’t see any artists who looked like her. She didn’t see any paintings of people who looked like her, either. As a young woman studying art in Paris, she found inspiration in the works of Matisse and Gaugin to paint the people she knew best. Back in Philadelphia, the Harmon Foundation commissioned her to paint portraits of accomplished African-Americans. Her portraits still hang in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Activities and Resources:
Use paint sample cards from a paint store to explore the many shades of brown. Compare them. What other colors can you see in brown? Which shade do you like best? Why?

Collect some brown items from nature like dried leaves, twigs, shells, seeds, pebbles, dried grasses or needles, bark, etc. How many different colors of brown can you find? How are they different? Add beads, paper, and other items to your collection to make a collage.

Use multicultural crayons to draw a picture of you and your friends.

Why I like this book:
Churnin’s lyrical text paints the story with words of many shades, and Marshall’s phenomenal illustrations showcase the depth and range of the color brown, a complex color that holds a rainbow within. The story of Laura Wheeler Waring sheds light on a piece of history as well as the art world. When she broke through, she was able to bring others with her to the attention of a wider world. This important book echoes Wheeler Waring’s work in that young readers of color will see the beauty of people that look like them and in themselves. A great story for young artists of all backgrounds.


Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.

Visit the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on Kid Lit Frenzy on Wednesdays for more great nonfiction books for kids!


12 thoughts on “Beautiful Shades of Brown

    1. If you’re looking for activities, check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) list. Bloggers contribute every week and she shares a list of all in categories for easy reference. It’s a treasure trove for teachers!


  1. I just read a terrific Rate Your Story post by author Nancy Churnin about her journey writing this wonderful book. Your endorsement here, Beth, makes me even more excited to read about Laura Wheeler Waring. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that there are more books about little-known personalities for Black History month. I think using a book like this with students makes a real connection. Beautiful book!

    Liked by 1 person

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