Why Picture Books Are Important by Javaka Steptoe

by Dianne on November 19, 2017


Why Picture Books Are Important by Javaka Steptoe

Children’s books have always been a part of my life. As a child, I remember my father taking the time to read to my sister and I, as well read to the children in the neighborhood we lived in. My father wrote and illustrated children’s books. He was inspired to create them because as a child he didn’t see himself in the children’s books his mother purchased for him and his siblings. Being that my father created children’s books, I actually grew up literally seeing myself, my family, friends and neighborhood in books. In retrospect, I think about how powerful of an experience that was and what it taught me about my value and place in the world. At best, the value of children’s books for me lies in the ability for them to bring the world to a child and explain its parts and complexity in 32 pages with beauty, joy, and intergenerational bonding. At worst, they can be used as emissaries of oppression and outdated thinking. So it is important that the books we create reflect a progression of thinking, leading towards love, kindness and inclusion. It is also important that the companies creating books cultivate a culture reflective of that ideal. I am very hopeful about the direction of children’s books and literature more broadly and would warn the industry against complacency. Please keep fighting the good fight and let us all create a more beautiful world. I am very proud to be a “Picture Book Month Champion” and look forward to CONTRIBUTING TO A MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD BY creating and sharing my art and experiences through books.


About Javaka Steptoe

Before becoming an award-winning artist, Javaka Steptoe served as a model and was the inspiration behind much of the artwork created by his esteemed father, the late John Steptoe.?
Javaka Steptoe’s debut picture book, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers (Lee & Low Books, ), earned him a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, in addition to a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards. Since that time, Steptoe has illustrated and/or written more than a dozen books for youth readers, collaborating with some of the top names in the business—Walter Dean Myers, Nikki Grimes, Karen English. This past January, Steptoe won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for his picture book biography Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little, Brown), more than thirty years after his father won two Caldecott Honors. The book won many other honors, too, including the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and multiple starred reviews.

Javaka Steptoe travels extensively reading and conducting workshops at schools, libraries, museums, and conferences across the country and internationally.

Literacy Activity
November 19 – Artists and Painters

“The technological debate about traditional vs. digital picture books and whether technology always means progress is a great topic for the classroom.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013)

Author and illustrator visits introduce students to the work and the job that creators of books experience. Make this a regular event in your classroom or school library. If the author or illustrator is unavailable for a face to face visit or appearance, try using technology. A webinar or Skype video conferencing is just as exciting!

Suggested reading
Touch the Art: Brush Mona Lisa’s Hair by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo
Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent de Brunhoff
Georgia’s Bones by Jen Bryant
Ella’s Trip to the Museum by Ellaine Clayton
Matthew’s Dream by Leo Lionni

Be sure to download the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms for more engaging ideas and activities to bring picture books into the ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies curriculum.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cassandra Gelvin November 22, 2017 at 10:17 am

“So it is important that the books we create reflect a progression of thinking, leading towards love, kindness and inclusion.” Yes! This! So very much this!

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