2017 Picture Book Month Champions Announced

by Dianne on October 7, 2017

The 2017 Picture Book Month Champions are:

Arthur Levine, Bethany Hegedus, Betsy Bird, Brian Smith, Colby Sharp, David Catrow, Dianne White, Donna Janell Bowman, Edna Cabcabin Moran, Eliana de Las Casas, Elizabeth Dulemba, Emma Otheguy, Eric Ode, Gaia Cornwall, Gina Perry, Greg Pizzoli, Javaka Steptoe, John Couret, Joyce Wan, Julie Segal Walters, Kelly Starling Lyons, Kimberly Willis Holt, Laura J. Rennert, Laura Krauss Melmed, Lori Richmond, Marcie Colleen, Muriel Feldshuh, Peter McCleery, Ruth McNally Barshaw, Ruth Sanderson

What an awesome list of authors, illustrators, and movers & shakers in the kidlit industry!



Why Picture Books Are Important by Kevan Atteberry
There is frequently discussion about how reading to children is a wonderful, connective activity. And I know it is from reading to my boys when they were young. But I don’t really remember being read to as a young child. I’m sure I was, but I only have memories of looking at books by myself. I remember some of the picture books we had but I don’t remember their titles. I remember volumes or anthologies of stories and poems that were heavily illustrated, but I can’t tell you what the stories were, other than some that were in the public domain. I remember getting a library card and checking out stacks of picture books (the limit was 6 back then) but I can’t name most of them, either. What I do remember vividly is the illustrations of the stories that captured me, mesmerized me. Whether it was the illustrations in picture books or in other illustrated texts, I was so fascinated with the stories they evoked that I had learned to read (with help, of course) by the time I was in kindergarten. I am convinced today that picture books were my gateway drug to reading.

About Kevan Atteberry
Kevan is an illustrator of award-winning children’s books. And recently, with BUNNIES!!! (2015) and PUDDLES!!! (2016) he is also an author. He, of course, illustrated them, too. Next year will see the launch of his third authored picture book, I LOVE YOU MORE THAN THE SMELL OF SWAMP GAS. But the thing he is most notorious for is creating Clippy the Microsoft Word helper. At one point, his creation was annoying hundreds of millions of computer users a day. He lives in a little house with a ghost cat near Seattle.

Literacy Activity
November 30 – Bunnies

“The very nature of reading a picture book invites conversations and questions that support developing understanding of language and the world.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Bunnies are so cute and fuzzy. But looks can be deceiving. Maybe the bunny is a superhero. Or maybe the bunny has a bad temper. Or maybe the bunny is really a gorilla in disguise! Whatever it is, write a story about a bunny who is more than meets the eye.

Suggested reading:
Ninja Bunny by Jennifer Gray Olson
Bunnies!!! by Kevan Atteberry
I Am A Bunny by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry
Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah O’Hora
Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi
Bear and Bunny by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

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


Why Picture Books Are Important by Lester L. Laminack
Though young people can speak into a phone or a tablet and gain access to information in record time there is no substitute for the bond between a child, a book, and a significant adult. The power of sitting together in a big chair with one well chosen book spread across two laps is one that can not be duplicated by an electronic device. Picture books remain an essential tool in the process of bringing children into a life of reading.

When young children become fascinated with a new topic and begin delving into the world of books to explore more deeply they often turn to picture books. Picture books have the power to captivate our eyes and ears in ways that spark the imagination to move us along with a character through time and space. In ways like no other print format can, illustrations in picture books lift and enrich the story line while giving support and depth to fresh vocabulary.

Picture books allow us to delve in, to explore from a safe distance that which is unfamiliar, thrilling or even frightening. The format affords us a threshold experience with little or no background required. Through a picture book students can explore the hottest and driest desert terrain from a table in a classroom nestled in the mountains of North Carolina even while the snow falls silently outside the window. Through picture books we are able to find others like ourselves and explore the lives of others we had not yet imagined.

Picture books allow us access with opportunity to visit once and step back to reflect, converse, question, and come back again with new and more specific interest. The opportunity to reflect and revisit again and again helps us slowly build our insights and deepen our understandings, to linger with a scene, focus on a character, or just pause a moment in the setting and let the story wash over us again.

Picture books, by their very design, allow young children to step into story on the lap of an adult creating a bond between books and children extending outward from the bond between the child and the adult.

About Lester L. Laminack
Lester L. Laminack is Professor Emeritus, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina where he received two awards for excellence in teaching [the Botner Superior Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award]. Lester is now a full-time writer and consultant working with schools throughout the United States. He is an active member of the National Council of Teachers of English and served three years as co-editor of the NCTE journal Primary Voices and as editor of the Children’s Book Review Department of the NCTE journal Language Arts (2003-2006). He also served as a teaching editor for the magazine Teaching K-8 and wrote the Parent Connection column (2000-2002). He is a former member of the Whole Language Umbrella Governing Board, a former member of the Governing Board and Secretary of the North Carolina Association for the Education of Young Children, and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Center for the Expansion of Language and Thinking. He served as the Basic Reading Consultant to Literacy Volunteers of America from 1987 through 2001 and is a former member of the Board of Directors of Our Children’s Place. He is the incoming editor of the Writing Department for the ILA journal Reading Teacher.

His academic publications include several books including Learning with Zachary (Scholastic), Spelling in Use (NCTE), Volunteers Working with Young Readers (NCTE), and his contributions to The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (NCTE), Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature (Heinemann) Reading Aloud Across the Curriculum (Heinemann), Climb Inside a Poem (Heinemann) Cracking Open the Author’s Craft (Scholastic), Unwrapping the Read Aloud (Scholastic), Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Aloud and Guided Conversations (Heinemann), and The Writing Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide (Heinemann). In addition he has several articles published in journals such as The Reading Teacher, Science and Children, Language Arts, Primary Voices, and Young Children. Lester is also the author of six children’s books: The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins, Trevor’s Wiggly-Wobbly Tooth, Saturdays and Tea Cakes, Jake’s 100th Day of School, Snow Day! and, Three Hens and a Peacock (2012 Children’s Choice K-2 Book of the Year Award), and two forthcoming titles, Voices for Civil Rights (Fall 2017) and The King of Bees (Spring 2018) all from Peachtree Publishers. His newest books for teachers, Writers ARE Readers: Flipping Reading Strategies into Writing Instruction (Heinemann), The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource: Making Every Moment Intentional and Instructional with Best Friend Books (Scholastic) and The Best Friend Fiction Collection (Scholastic) are now available.

Literacy Activity
November 29 – Chickens

“Picture book illustrations lend themselves nicely to counting exercises. (how many apples can you find?)”(from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

When reading aloud, engage readers in the reading experience by focusing on objects in the book that can be counted or described in quantities. Model the thinking process involved in reading as well as skills in basic numeracy.

Suggested reading:
Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan
Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
Daisy Comes Home by Jan Brett
Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan
Little “Read” Hen by Dianne De Las Casas and Holly Stone-Barker
Madame Poulet and Monsieur Roach by Dianne De Las Casas and Marita Gentry

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


Why Picture Books Are Important Ralph Masiello

by Dianne on November 28, 2016

Why Picture Books Are Important by Ralph Masiello
Picture books have power. When children open a book, they open a world of possibilities. Where else do frogs fly through the sky on lily pads, board games open up to other worlds and chaos, giant red dogs are heroes, a child with a large purple crayon goes on a fantastic journey of creativity, and a dreamer meets some wonderfully “wild things”?

When I was a very small boy, my mother gave me an amazing gift: the love of books. My first memories of books were sweet and comforting. I had a very small table and two chairs in my bedroom. At lunchtime, my mother would close the blinds, cover the table with a red and white checkerboard table cloth, and light a candle. As I sat, slowly eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she would read to me wonderful picture books that would take me on incredible journeys beyond my small town. My favorite book was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I could see myself by the seashore digging with my little spade, swinging on a swing so high I could see other lands, and making my bed into a toy army battlefield with giants on hills and ships sliding along the sheets.

In the hands of children, they open the world to endless imagination and creativity. I started visiting schools in 1987 and have now been to over 2700. I have seen the power of the picture book in the hands of children. Their own books are filled with imagination, wonder, sadness, joy, adventure, and amazing creativity. I have seen the beaming pride as a child shows me their book. It gives them the power to elevate themselves to places beyond their houses, beyond their small towns and cities, beyond their own lives.

About Ralph Masiello
Ralph was born, raised, and still resides in the state of Massachusetts where he lives with his daughters Alexa and Talia. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (BFA, Illustration, 1985), Ralph has illustrated for magazines, newspapers and books, created posters and prints, and shown his fine art paintings in galleries throughout the world. Beginning with The Icky Bug Alphabet Book in 1986, Ralph has become internationally known for the children’s books he’s written and illustrated. Since 1987, he has visited over 2,700 schools all over the world, inspiring children with his life story, humor, and art. While visiting schools, he is often inspired himself by the enthusiasm, creativity, and hard work of the students and teachers. This led him to create his unique “How to Draw” book series. The most recent, Ralph Masiello’s Fairy Drawing Book was released in September 2014 to rave reviews. In 2011, his work appeared in a strange and mysterious book called The Mystic Phyles: Beasts. Coming in the Spring 2017 is the Ralph Masiello’s Alien Drawing Book and Fall 2017 is the Ralph Masiello’s Train Drawing Book.

Literacy Activity
November 28 – Under the Sea

“Literature takes us to places we cannot go when inside a classroom; and additionally through the use of illustrations and photographs, picture books can show us places we are unable to go to ourselves.”(from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Play pretend with your students. Imagine that you are all sea animals. What if I were a fish? A sting ray? A starfish? An octopus? Make students choose a sea animal they want to be. What would a fish’s day be like? What does a starfish see that another sea animal cannot? How does an octopus swim away from its prey? Talk about it then write have students write down their sea animal story.

Suggested reading:
A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On by Lois Elhert
Ordinary Amos and the Amazing Fish by Eugenie and Henry Fernandes
Fish Is Fish by Leo Lionni
Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck

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


Why Picture Books Are Important by Sylvia Liu

by Dianne on November 27, 2016


Why Picture Books are Important by Sylvia Liu

Picture books are gateway drugs to the best addiction possible: a lifelong love of reading and a world of imagination and exploration. With a love of reading comes the keys to understanding people, the world around us, and deep truths. With a love of reading comes empathy for others and a broader world view. Becoming a lifelong reader means joining the grand conversation of humanity across time and space. Picture books are the stepping stone to that great adventure.

Picture books are uniquely qualified to introduce children to the wonders of reading. When children sit on their parents’ or caregivers’ laps and absorb delightful words and art, they associate reading with love and belonging. Before long, the stories provide their own pleasures and memories.

What better way to share the wonderful world of reading than through picture books—tangible canvasses of words that paint pictures, and pictures that evoke words?

All About Sylvia Liu
Sylvia Liu is an environmental attorney turned author and illustrator. Her debut picture book as an author, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, illustrated by Christina Forshay (the 2013 Lee & Low New Voices Award winner), came out in May 2016. She is inspired by oceans, family, cephalopods, aliens, and more. Her portfolio can be found at www.enjoyingplanetearth.com and she helps run the kid lit resource website www.kidlit411.com. Sylvia grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, and now lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, two daughters, cat, and guinea pig.

Literacy Activity
November 27 – Family

“Picture books provide an emotional core which helps connect the student to the content.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Read the title of the picture book and show the book cover. Ask students to make a guess or to predict what the story’s theme or topic is all about. As the read aloud progresses, acknowledge the guesses and predictions of students that were validated in the story.

Suggested reading:
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Two Nests by Laurence Anholt and Jim Coplestone
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch,illustrated by Sheila McGraw

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


Why Picture Books Are Important by Phil Bildner

by Dianne on November 26, 2016

Why Picture Books Are Important by Phil Bildner

In my classroom, I often used picture books as conversation starters. All classrooms can use picture books as conversation starters.

As educators, we have a responsibility to facilitate discussions in our classrooms that may be difficult or make us uncomfortable. If we’re honest with ourselves when we say our classroom is a community that fosters and promotes empathy and acceptance, then we have a moral obligation to share difficult topics and subject matters with our students.

Let picture books be gateways.

We must talk about racism and inequality. We must talk about wars and acts of terrorism. We must talk about the many definitions of family. We must talk about natural disasters. We must talk about disease and death.

No one is saying we’re required to develop in depth units of study. But we can’t deny the existence of these topics. Nor can we leave it to others to address them.

Introduce these subject matters with picture books. Let picture books be the launch pads for students so that they can engage in self-exploration. Let picture books be the gateways for their curiosity.

About Phil Bildner
Phil Bildner is the author of numerous children’s picture books including the Margaret Wise Brown Prize winning Marvelous Cornelius, Twenty-One Elephants, The Soccer Fence, The Hallelujah Flight, The Unforgettable Season, and Night at the Stadium. He is author of A Whole New Ballgame and Rookie of the Year, the first two books in the middle grade Rip & Red series, and he is also the co-creator of The New York Times Bestselling middle grade chapter book serial, Sluggers. A former middle school teacher in the New York City public schools, Phil spends much of the year visiting schools around the country conducting writing workshops and talking process with students. He lives in Newburgh, New York with his husband and dog. Find him at www.philbildner.com

Literacy Activity
November 26 – Sports

“Picture books provide a context which supports developing understanding of mathematical concepts such as measurement and time.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Conduct a survey in the class on students’ favorite sports and leisure activities. Collect the data and present it in numbers or in a graph. What do the numbers say? Interpret the numeric data into words and sentences. Point out commonality and diversity in the result of the survey and the importance of respecting the choices of others.

Suggested reading:

The Greatest Goal (Hockey Heroes Series) by Mike Leonetti, illustrated by Sean Thompson
Players In Pigtails by Shana Corey, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm and Carol Thompson.
Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia (I Can Read Level 2) by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Wallace Tripp

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


Why Picture Books Are Important by Kwame Alexander

They’re as important as cars. They help us get from one place to another, from not knowing, to knowing. From impossible to possible. Picture books are the great experience equalizer. We don’t have to leave the comforts of the beds in the rooms of our houses, and yet we can still travel through time and place and circumstance. If a book is a world, then the pages are windows to look out onto that world. We can truly see, and sometimes dream, a world from each page. And, we can do it as soon as we hit the earth. What a great way to start life, right?

I also believe that picture books are as important as clothes. They keep kids cool and warm and comfortable as they face the woes and wonders of our world. My favorite picture books as a child were, Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, Abby by Jeanette Caines, and Spin a Soft Black Song by Nikki Giovanni. Dr. Seuss gave me the words to speak up for myself in Kindergarten (Pure hilarity, but I was no pushover). Nikki Giovanni wrote a poem called “Come Nataki Dance With Me,” and I begged my mom to name my new sister, Nataki. She did. And, Abby, about the relationship between a boy and his adopted sister, helped me learn to actually LIKE my new sister. Books are powerful. They can change the world.

Finally, I like to think that picture books are mirrors. They help us find ourselves. Know ourselves. There’s this picture book that my parents used to read to me called And the Sun God Said That’s Hip. It was written by a poet named Ernest Gregg. The story is told in rhythmic verse. It’s a really powerful poem that I must have read a thousand times growing up. Hmmm, I wonder if that book had anything to do with my career choice…

About Kwame Alexander
Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Pasaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include SURF’S UP, a picture book; BOOKED, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.

Kwame believes that poetry can change the world, and he uses it to inspire and empower young people through his PAGE TO STAGE Writing and Publishing Program released by Scholastic. A regular speaker at schools and conferences in the U.S., he also travels the world planting seeds of literary love: Singapore, Brazil, Italy, France, Shanghai, and recently, Alexander led a delegation of 20 writers and activists to Ghana, where they delivered books, built a library, and provided literacy professional development to 300 teachers, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an International literacy program he co-founded. In 2015, Kwame served as Bank Street College of Education’s Inaugural Dorothy M. Carter writer-in- residence. The Kwame Alexander Papers, a collection of his writings, correspondence, and other professional and personal documents is held at the George Washington University Gelman Library. Visit him at KwameAlexander.com.

Literacy Activity
November 25 – Farm

“Picture books allow students to have vicarious experiences through characters that are not like them.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Create your own television or book trailer to get others to read your favorite picture book about farm animals.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Doreen Cronin
Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown,pictures by Felicia Bond
Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton
How Big Is a Pig? by Claire Beaton
Sally Goes to the Farmby Stephen Huneck

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

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Why Picture Books Are Important by Laura Murray

by Dianne on November 24, 2016


Why Are Picture Books Important by Laura Murray
Let’s play a game!

I’ll share a story… or a little piece of many stories. Can you guess what books they are from?

• “Crunch, crunch, crunch, his feet sank into the snow. He walked with his toes pointing out, like this: He walked with his toes pointing in, like that.”

• “A mystery! A riddle! A puzzle! A quest! This was the moment that Ada loved best.”

• “A told B, and B told C, ‘I’ll meet you at the top of the Coconut tree.’”

• “Three little bears.
One with a light. One with a stick. One with a rope.
A spooky old tree.
Do they dare go into that spooky old tree?
Yes, they dare!”

• “Mom says some days are just like that. Even in Australia.”

• “Then, one by one, the trees began to drop their leaves. But not Little Tree. He just hugged his leaves tight.”

• “We’ve got to get rid of that bully!
We’re tired of letting him rule.
We must put an end to this terrible trend.
Let’s train at that new ninja school!”

Did you recognize these picture books?

If so, it’s because so many of us have personal bonds with picture books. We may remember how we felt as we snuggled with a parent long ago or when we read it aloud to our child or a group of children, marveling at their reactions. Picture books take us on a journey through story and art that makes us FEEL something – love, laughter, understanding, kindness, anger, fear, sadness, belonging, curiosity, and so much more. When we explore those feelings through books, we learn about friendship, empathy, courage, tenacity, acceptance, patience, and persistence in situations that are familiar, or ones we can only imagine.

When we share picture books with our children and students, we are not only growing strong reading & literacy skills, we are growing a stronger, more empathetic, and understanding world.

Thank you for reading with your children! It truly does make a difference…in so many ways!

(Oh, and here are the titles from above, in case you’d like to add them to your “to-share” list.)

• The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
• Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, Illustrations by David Roberts
• Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault, Illustrations by Lois Ehlert
• The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree, by Stan & Jan Berenstain
• Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, Illustrations by Ray Cruz
• Little Tree, by Loren Long
• The Three Ninja Pigs, by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illustrations by Dan Santat

About Laura Murray
Laura Murray is the author of The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School (GP Putnam’s Sons), and his continuing adventures, The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck, The GB Man Loose at Christmas, The GB Man Loose at the Zoo, and The GB Man & the Leprechaun Loose at School (2018.) This award-winning, humor-filled rhyming series was inspired by a Gingerbread Man who managed to escape from her classroom every single school year when she was a teacher.

Laura lives with her family of mischief makers in northern Virginia. Visit her online at www.LauraMurrayBooks.com for activities, teacher’s guides, & school visit information. You can also find her on Facebook or on Twitter at @LauraMurrayBook.

Literacy Activity
November 24 – Holiday

“Picture books place a human face to historical, political, environmental and cultural events.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Each year different holidays are observed around the world. Their traditions and cultures are as diverse as the people who celebrate them. Conduct research on holidays around the world to share. Maybe even find a way to celebrate in the Classrooms.

Suggested reading:
The House that Witchy Built by Dianne de Las Casas, illustrated by Holly Stone-Barker
Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Dia de Los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon

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



Why Picture Books Are Important by Matthew Cordell
When Picture Books Saved My Life (well, ok… sort of)

Back in the day, I was an avid picture book reader. And because it was truly back in the day, (I was just 4 years old or so) I don’t remember too much. But I remember thoroughly enjoying the usual suspects. Seuss, Sendak, Scarry, etc. I remember enjoying the combination of quality art and quality words and I remember enjoying the experience of being read to. Of sharing a book. Being at someone’s side or in someone’s lap, just one book at a time between the two of us. Then, for whatever reason, picture books all but vanished from my life. I suspect it was because my Mom and my teachers and my librarians stopped putting them in front of me, and instead started pushing the chapter book stuff. At any rate, that was that.

Then came… The Great Picture Book Drought.

It wasn’t as bleak as it sounds.

During The Great Picture Book Drought, I learned a lot about myself. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I loved to draw. Drawing and art became the thing that I was good at and known for by my friends, family, teachers, and peers. It defined me as a child, then as a young adult, and then as a 20-something more/less adult. And as time went on, I discovered the art of graphic design. Combining type and image to make layout and composition for things like magazines, books, websites. I loved that too. During The Great Picture Book Drought, I also learned that I loved to read. I loved books in many forms including art books, novels, poetry, and comics.



I loved reading books, and I loved the art and design of books. Books were beautiful to me in multiple ways. But what about picture books… what were those again?

There was a critical moment that happened during The Great Picture Book Drought. At some point in high school, when I was beginning to take art more and more seriously (as in “maybe this could be some sort of career or something someday”), a well-meaning relative gave me a new picture book as a birthday gift. A re-introduction, if you will, to the world of picture books. The problem was, however, this picture book was not very good. It was not very good at all. The story was terrible, didactic, and hokey. The art was dreadful, unaccomplished, unoriginal, and uncool in every way. Looking back, I think it may have been a book that was remaindered or set on a deep discount clearance table someplace. I politely accepted the gift. And—not to sound like a jerk (if I don’t already)—but I thought to myself, “If this is what picture books are now, I need to be as far away from this as possible.”

I often think back to that moment. Had that book been a well-designed, well-illustrated, well-written, thoughtful and sophisticated picture book representative of that time, then The Great Picture Book Drought would have ended right there. Alas, it was not and it did not. And so The Drought continued.

I graduated from college with a degree and passion for graphic design. And also for fine art. I moved to the city of Chicago to pursue careers in both on a large scale. I dove head first into Chicago’s thriving design community and its gallery and arts community too. It was exhilarating.

And then it wasn’t.

After a couple of years’ time, it began to dawn on me that I really wasn’t cut out for design. The business end of it really wasn’t my bag. I didn’t like it and I stunk at it. And the long hours, committing my life to the name on the business I was working for… I became resentful of that. It wasn’t fun anymore. I flamed out. Simultaneously, I discovered that I really wasn’t cut out for the gallery scene either. Often times it felt too discriminating and alienating. Judgmental. Pretentious. Not what I wanted. All of this broke my artistic heart. Everything I’d worked for, my whole life up to this point, had become meaningless to me.

And yet… thankfully when all was seemingly lost, there came a flicker of a glimmer of hope.

Around this same time, I was dating a very ambitious young woman, an elementary school librarian named Julie. (A young woman who would later agree to marrying me!) Julie was also a budding and talented writer. She’d been poking at me for a while to consider teaming up with her to try and collaborate on a picture book idea and try to get it published. She would write it, I would come up with some sample art, and we’d give it a shot. Because of my picture book ignorance, I’d been resistant. But to my newly artistically burned out self, this proposal had new meaning. Maybe it could be a new outlet of drawing, design, all creativity for me. Still, all I could think of was that terrible picture book I was gifted back in high school. Then, as any great librarian is wont to do, Julie set me straight. First she put a stack of her childhood picture book favorites in my lap as a refresher. Some of which I’d remembered and loved myself. The Sendak, the Seuss, the Scarry. And amazing stuff from back then that I had not remembered at all because maybe I’d never been hip to it. Steig, Waber, Lobel, Marshall, Blake.


My eyes were wide open. Then, once these books had gotten my full attention, she began to bring home stacks and stacks more of contemporary and inspiring picture books to continue and wet my whistle. I’d been won over. I fell in love with picture books again. Picture book art. Picture book storytelling. Picture book design. It was all so mind-blowingly sophisticated and sharp and funny and approachable and humble and humbling and perfect. Inspiration rained down on me, terminally and finally bringing The Great Picture Book Drought to its satisfying end.

We worked up our picture book proposal, Julie’s story and my art, and submitted it to 20 publishers.


Months later, the rejection letters started coming in. One by one, we slowly received 19 rejections. And then came the unthinkable. The very last chance and last publisher, Houghton Mifflin, wrote and was willing to take a chance on our little book. Sometime after, Toby and the Snowflakes was published in 2004.


Everything about the process had been an awakening to me. Discovering picture books. Then the hopefulness and thrill of trying to get a book published. Then actually getting it published! That part was through-the-roof insanity. Even the rejection letters were kind and thoughtful and encouraging. Everyone at Houghton was so welcoming and warm. And cool and clever and funny too. On the brink of turning my back on art completely, picture books had shown themselves at just the right time.

After TOBY, I continued to try and also to succeed, gratefully, to get published as an illustrator. I still had so much to learn about illustration and picture books and picture book history, but I was picking it up more and more. And with every page and corner I turned, it was always invigorating. Through the internet and social media, I began reaching out to fellow authors and illustrators. The sense of community and talent there was and is wholly inspiring.

Furthermore, as the books I’d illustrated began to come out, I slowly worked myself up to doing bookstore events and school visits, reading and sharing my books with their primary intended audience. Making way for even more inspiration on my part. The joy I got and continue to get from these kids and their grown-up counterparts (librarians, teachers, parents, etc) is immeasurable. I watch, first hand, picture books making art and artists approachable. They put art in a very grounded context. They make art affordable and reachable to everyone, everywhere, all walks of life. They make drawing and writing believable and achievable, inspiring readers everywhere. Which in turn inspires authors and illustrators everywhere.

And with these interactions, I slowly became aware of just how singular the picture book format really is. It is the one book that is read and appreciated by two vastly different audiences: the adult and the child. For it to work, the picture book has to work double time. It’s fascinating. And frustrating. And amazing. Simultaneously, they are bringing these two groups together in a shared space, with a shared story, and shared art, and shared page turns. Picture books are incomparable.

And, so, what else? What else can picture books do?

What more does one need? Like I said—and it probably sounds dramatic, and it probably is—picture books (and one very ambitious and multi-talented and lovely librarian wife) saved my life. And I’m grateful.

And I can’t wait to see what they do next.



About Matthew Cordell
Matthew Cordell has illustrated many books for children including the popular Justin Case series by Rachel Vail, Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold, and First Grade dropout by Audrey Vernick. He is the author and illustrator of Trouble Gum, Another Brother, and Hello! Hello!, a New York Times Notable picture book, and, most recently, Wish. Matthew lives outside of Chicago with his wife, author Julie Halpern, and their two children. Visit him online at matthewcordell.com.

Literacy Activity
November 23 – Dessert/Chocolate

“Picture books provide excellent scenarios for word problems, using a plot line and characters that students know and relate to.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Extend the conversation about the topic or theme of the picture book that was read aloud in class by inviting the author or the illustrator for a Skype interview or an actual visit in school. Have students ask questions about their work, how and why they write. To connect the reading experience to writing, have students write the author or the illustrator a letter. Your students may be surprised if the author writes back!

Suggested reading:
Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lilian Hoban
The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola
Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle
Oliver, the Chocolate Baker: Children’s picture book by Sini Ezer, translated by Lola M. Rogers

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


Why Picture Books Are Important by Erzsi Deak

by Dianne on November 22, 2016


Why Pictures Book Are Important by Erzsi Deak
Picture books are often the first taste (literally! Think of how many children eat their books…) of Story and of the relationship between image and text. Course, a child is not intellectualizing this concept, but is instead reveling in the idea of story; of the voyage taken; of the comfort of reading, usually, with a loved one. Later, as the child grows more autonomous, she will hold the book and pretend to read (the fact that this is often done upside down is of no import! It is the belief that she is reading that counts! It is the beginning Story of a reader!).

Picture books also form the groundwork for visual literacy. For this reason, we must make beautiful picture books! It is a huge responsibility! Picture books are also the groundwork for understanding innately how Story works, as the reader anxiously turns the page to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. It allows the child to figure out how he could respond to a situation in his life. And, finally, the picture book is a gorgeous form of good ol’ entertainment. The beauty of the book is that one can go back to it again and again and feel it and smell it and remember the first time one read it, even 30 years later.
Growing up in Los Angeles, CA, in a book-friendly world, we had many books around. I remember when I gave a presentation at Los Feliz Elementary School. Always shy, I chose to read Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to my class. As a new reader, I practiced and practiced how to say COMFORTABLE (COME-FOR-TABLE) and gloried in this small victory. Many books make up my childhood library. Bread and Jam for Frances always makes me think about when Tommy, my youngest brother, would eat nothing but peanut butter and my parents, like Francis’ parents, gave him the one thing he always wanted to eat to the point that two-year-old Tommy cried, “You’ve ruined peanut butter for me!”

So we come back to taste! With so many picture books to taste and choose from, each and every child should (and I rarely use the word SHOULD seriously) have access to picture books – heck, every adult should! Picture books are important because they make the world taste better and give each and every reader a fulfilling diet of love of words and pictures while entertaining and allowing each reader to bring her own story to the story and to voyage with the characters together. And if they are lucky, starting in the lap of a loved one. I applaud organizations that give tasty picture books to newborns and their families – what a fabulous journey they are all embarking upon (teeth marks and all)!

About Erzsi Deak

Erzsi Deak is an author, editor, and founder of Hen&ink Literary. Her picture book, Pumpkin Time! (illustrated by Doug Cushman; Sourcebooks/Scholastic Clubs), celebrates mindfulness, a gardening year – and pumpkin pie. Period Pieces (co-edited Kristin Embry, HarperCollins) was a Bank Street pick; she is thrilled girls and their families can read this collection of terrific stories by award-winning authors in the forthcoming MAB Media edition, Between You & Me: Tales & Truth About Your First Period. She is a two-time SCBWI Member of the Year and serves on the KidsGardening Educator Advisory Panel. Erzsi splits her time between the South of France and California.

Literacy Activity
November 22 – Pumpkin/Fall

“Children are born scientists; and picture books, like Science, are about the spirit of curiosity and exploration.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Choose drawings and illustrations from a picture book and compare it with actual photos of similar places or events. For example, an illustrated page of a tree in autumn against a photograph of a tree in the same season would elicit points for discussion on similarities and differences of art works. Discuss further the many ways in which artists render their subjects. Some use watercolors, collage, pencils, crayons, mixed media and digital tools. End the activity by offering students an array of art materials to use in making their Tree in Autumn art piece.

Suggested reading:
When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Stefano Vitale
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert
Fall Is Not Easy by Marty Kelley
Autumnblings by Douglas Florian
Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White

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

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