The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright by K.L. Going with illustrations by Lauren Stringer for me. We visited a Wright house in Grand Rapids, Michigan while we were on vacation a few years ago. Wright's all over the place in the midwest, and we're probably going to visit another house he designed this fall when we're in Illinois and Wisconsin. But my point is, I wasn't interested in readability for children when I brought this home.
Then I found myself with a five-and-a-half-year-old house guest, who is as fond of bedtime reading as I am. I still hadn't read Shape, so I added it to one of our evening bed binges. But I thought, I'll just skim this with him. We won't get into the real techie stuff.
Well, we didn't skim it. The book worked just fine with a littlie. This is what I think did the trick--the shapes. Early on, the author and illustrator introduce the idea of the boy Wright being given gifts: "cubes, spheres, cones, pyramids, cylinders." They appear to be blocks or other kinds of toys. And then they carry the shape idea throughout the book. Kids get shapes, or ours did. Shapes were a way getting into the Frank Lloyd Wright story.
During a trip to the library, our guy picked out Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville with illustrations by Brigette Barrager. This book uses a similar device. "Other children collected marbles or dolls, but Mary collected colors of every shade and every hue." And the idea of what Mary Blair did with colors is carried through the whole book.
In both cases, something child readers are familiar with--shapes or color--is used as way of bringing them into a story about adults.