Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Art inspires storytelling in Anna and Johanna

Anna and Johanna, by Géraldine Elschner/Illustrated by Florence Koenig, (Apr. 2018, Prestel-Penguin/Random House), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791373454

Recommended for readers 5-10

Inspired by two of Dutch artist Jan Vermeer’s paintings, this story of two friends who discover a secret on their shared birthday spins a creative imagining and appreciation of art. Anna and Johanna are two girls, living in the 17th century, and celebrating their shared 12th birthday. Anna, the daughter of the master of the house, makes a lace collar for Johanna, the daughter of the housemaid. Johanna is making a lovely breakfast for Anna, complete with handmade chocolate. As the two prepare to spend their birthday together, Anna spies a note from her father, unveiling a secret about the two girls that brings them even closer together.

Vermeer’s paintings, “The Milkmaid” and “The Lacemaker“, inspired this story, as explained in the back matter, along with a discussion about Vermeer. The artwork is Vermeer-inspired, with beautiful blues, yellows throughout the story; the art looks hand-painted, with visible brushstrokes. I love how the text and artwork take Vermeer’s artwork and weave a story around it; while the story itself is inspired by “The Milkmaid” and “The Lacemaker”, guide readers to notice details from Vermeer’s Delft paintings, like “The Little Street” and “View of Delft“. The author and illustrator even draw an actual figure from Vermeer’s lifetime into the story, a painter named Carel Fabritius, and his work, “The Goldfinch“.

This isn’t a read-aloud book; there’s a nice amount of story to be told here. It is a wonderful addition to art history programs, where you can invite readers to create their own stories based on works of art. You can make it fun by bringing fandom into it! Show kids one of the many Star Wars mockups of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for instance:

Source: MJTIllustrationLLC on Etsy

Or maybe a Sesame Street-style Great Wave Off Kanagawa is more your style:

 Source: Laughing Squid

The point is, art and imagination go hand-in-hand. Show kids that they can create a story from someone else’s story!


I'm a mom, a children's librarian, bibliophile, and obsessive knitter. I'm a pop culture junkie and a proud nerd, and favorite reads usually fall into Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I review comics and graphic novels at WhatchaReading ( I'm also the co-founder of On Wednesdays We Wear Capes (, where I discuss pop culture and geek fandom from a female point of view.

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