Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin

Happy Juneteenth 2020!

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Nancy Churnin, Author

Felicia Marshall, Illustrator

Creston Books, Biography, Feb. 4, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 6- 11

Themes: Laura Wheeler Waring, Artist, African American, Biography

Opening: “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.”


As a 10-year-old girl, Laura spent hours mixing and blending colors to find the perfect shades of brown to paint pictures of her parents, brothers and sister and friends. She dreamed of being an artist and exhibiting her artwork in museums. But she didn’t see any artists who looked like her. In 1897 she didn’t see artwork of African Americans. So she created her own gallery, and hung her painting on the walls of her room where her family could view her art.

Her dreams continued to grow. By the time she finished high school, she applied to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was accepted. Her dreams didn’t stop there. After she graduated she went to Paris to study art and the great artists.  Word of her talent spread and she was commissioned to paint the portraits of accomplished African Americans — poets, authors, diplomats, activists and singers, including her inspiration, Marian Anderson.

Today Laura Wheeler Waring’s portraits hang in Washington D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Why I like this book:

Well done Nancy Churnin! Beautiful Shades of Brown is a celebration of brown Americans, as readers will discover in Churnin’s polished and richly textured narrative about Laura Wheeler Waring’s ordinary, but extraordinary life. Children will find her journey inspiring.

Waring is the perfect role model for little girls who have big dreams. Determined and committed to pursuing her passion, young Laura began to manifest her dreams. She was self-confident, believed in her gift, and welcomed each opportunity that came her way. Most important, she was paving the way for girls and women to live their dreams.

Felicia Marshall’s illustrations are rich, beautiful, expressive and soulful. My favorite illustration shows the joy Waring feels as she paints Marian Anderson’s red gown and remembers the day she first heard her sing.

There’s an informative Author’s Note, and the book is further enhanced by reproductions of seven of Waring’s portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

Resources: Encourage children to draw or paint a picture of a family member. If they use paints, suggest that they mix colors together to create more interesting faces, hair and clothing.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Visit Churnin at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

34 thoughts on “Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin

    • Thank you, Robin! I am so grateful to my editor, Marissa Moss, for believing in the importance of Laura Wheeler Waring’s story, to Felicia Marshall for her exquisite illustrations, to Ms. Waring’s heir, Madeline Murphy Rabb, and my friends at the Smithsonian for their help and encouragement. This was truly a team effort!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I absolutely love that, as a child, Laura Wheeler Waring turned her bedroom into a gallery where she could display her art. What a great solution! I also love that she noticed all of the shades of brown that exist and believed in herself and her talent. This is an incredible book, and I’m glad you shared it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Leslie! I am grateful to Patricia for sharing it today, too! I hope Laura Wheeler Waring will inspire kids all over to join our project, Paint Your World, and send artwork of themselves and their communities to post on so we can celebrate how beautiful they are.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Patricia. I hope you enjoy it! I am so happy to spread word about this great artist who deserves to be more widely known. You’ll find it comes with free teacher guides, resources and a project on my website,

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Julie. I am so thrilled to have Patricia’s help in spreading word about this great artist who deserves to be more widely known. I hope readers will check out the free teacher guides, resources and a project on my website,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia, thanks for your great review. Nancy is such an amazing author and biographer. I didn’t get this book before the libraries closed down. So it’s on my TBR list and I can’t wait, especially after your review.


    • I agree with you. I really enjoy reading Churnin’s biographies, and Laura Wheeler Waring’s story is a stand-out story for children. Can’t wait to get my hands on “For Spacious Skies.” My library opened for books you place on hold. I just have to pull up for curbside pick-up.


    • Maria and Patricia, I am so grateful for your friendship and support! It is a joy and a privilege to shine a spotlight on people who inspire me and that kids (and many adults!) may not know about otherwise. I fell in love with Laura Wheeler Waring’s work from the minute I laid eyes on her magnificent portrait of Marian Anderson. Patricia, I am excited for you to read For Spacious Skies, too. Too few people know that “America the Beautiful” was written by Katharine Lee Bates, who was a little girl during the Civil War, and dreamt of using her love of words to create a poem that would encourage a divided nation to “crown thy good with brotherhood” and to realize we are all one family “from sea to shining sea.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • A great question, Jilanne. While I don’t have the answer, I will say that they have much in common in their inclusive, celebratory mission. I bet Ms. Waring would have loved The Undefeated! Patricia, I’m glad you love Felicia Marshall’s illustrations as much as I do. I am so excited for folks to experience her talent. Not only does she channel the realistic style of Ms. Waring and show her painting the actual paintings Ms. Waring painted (so M.C. Escher!), but she captures beautiful shades of brown in her own backgrounds. Truly incredible.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Picture Books About Strong, Independent Female Artists | Pragmatic Mom

  4. Such a great cover and it’s a book I will have to get. Passion for what you are good as a child can truly turn into your life’s work. Thanks for the heads-up on this title.


    • Your mention of “passion” really struck a chord with me. Waring certainly was passionate about her artwork and fortunately had a supportive family. I know how difficult it was at that time for any woman to study art at an college. We all need to be aware of what our kids and grand kids are passionate about as they mature.


    • I agree, Greg — one of the most important things teachers, parents and caring adults can do is encourage kids to find their passion and their way of expressing it. Laura Wheeler Waring actually came from a family of ministers and speakers. While she shared their passion for civil rights, she was quiet and preferred to speak with her paintbrush. She found the right way to express herself and she was also fortunate in having a supportive family who sent all their children to college and encouraged her every step of the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Rosi! I am grateful to Patricia for sharing my book with you and her readers. It was a challenge to find all the information since so little had been written about her. But I was determined and was fortunate to find help from curators at the Smithsonian Institution and Ms. Waring’s heir, Madeline Murphy Rabb, who was able to supply wonderful details, including the one about Ms. Waring bribing younger family members with peppermints to sit still for their portraits! I do hope this will inspire young artists. I created a project, Paint Your World, on my website, inviting kids to share art of themselves and their community that I am posting on a dedicated page so we can celebrate how beautiful everyone is.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds like an excellent account of a woman with incredible accomplishments! Thanks for the excellent review!


    • I hope you enjoy, Completely Full Bookshelf (and you can find a little space on that shelf for Beautiful Shades of Brown)! Patricia, yes, it was good that Ms. Waring got to see her paintings travel the country and end up at the Smithsonian. I am happy to report that folks are rediscovering her now, too. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she attended school, was given two of her paintings as a gift for their permanent collection this year. And two of her paintings were featured in a touring Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, Pamela, and thank you, Patricia, for your kind words! It has been the honor and joy of my life to write and share these stories. I am grateful for the editors that join me on the journey, the illustrators who bring their own brilliance to the challenge, the kids, the educators and all of you. The encouragement and support of all of you in my kid lit community keep me going. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

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