Artist's Books for Kids Don't Skim over Grown-Up Topics

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Byline: Sarah Fowler Daily Herald Staff Writer

When Mike Venezia writes for kids, he doesn't paint them a rose- colored picture of the world.

His children's biographies of great artists and composers don't gloss over the tragedies and hardships they encountered, he said.

"Things like this that happened 100 years ago are still happening today," said Venezia, 57, of Glen Ellyn. "I don't want to ignore them because I think they are so important."

Venezia wrote and illustrated two children's series, "Getting to Know the World's Famous Artists" and "Getting to Know the World's Famous Composers."

He said he plans to answer questions, sign books and possibly give a drawing demonstration at a book signing Sunday at Barnes & Noble in downtown Naperville.

When he began the series, his greatest challenge was to write books for children about lives that were sometimes tragic and complicated, Venezia said.

"At first it didn't seem like a very doable thing," he said.

But he found that using cartoons and humorous anecdotes combined with a simple, honest approach to mature topics seemed to work.

"I try to make the cartoons - I think that's the key to the whole thing - they have to get the kids' attention, but they have to have something that relates to the artist's life or the composer's life," Venezia said. "I try to get weird, funny things that are interesting to kids."

He says it's important to be honest with kids about the darker sides of artists' lives because it helps them understand how the art came about. …