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Picture books, an important genre in literature, play an essential role in a child’s development. These books establish a rhythm between words and pictures. Multi-sensory in nature, picture books stimulate a child’s growing mind and imagination. The holistic nature of these illustrations relate to children emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Not only do illustrations enhance the words in the story, picture books may be a child’s first experience with art. In wordless books, the illustrations are the story.

Focusing on the artists, consider the variety of techniques used by illustrators; for example, pen, ink, photographs, collage, oil, watercolor, die-cut, and more. Think about the color, line, and texture of Maurice Sendak’s work, the oil pastels in Van Allsburg’s “The Polar Express,” and the collages of Eric Carle, made by tearing and cutting out shapes from painted tissue paper.

I have chosen to highlight the works of two author/illustrators—“In the Small Small Pond” by Denise Fleming and “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick. Last year, I took a workshop with Ms. Fleming at an early childhood conference. Her exuberance for children’s literature was inspiring, especially her books connecting children with nature. Her technique for creating her illustrations is interesting, as well as creative. She works in paper—creating images by pouring colored paper pulp through hand cut stencils.

In “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” Brian Selznick uses pencil on watercolor paper, hatching and crosshatching to create value, depth, and texture to create the illustrations. Filmmaker George Méliès was an inspiration in creating this book which Selznick describes as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all of these things.”

“In the Small Small Pond” was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 1994 and “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 2008. The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children, and other books as worthy of attention are named Caldecott Honor Books.

• Share a memory you have of a favorite picture book as a child or parent/caregiver.
• Comment on art techniques used by illustrators of children’s picture books.
• Do you think there is a difference in the way young children relate to stories in print versus on an e-reader?

Additional information:

Janet Lebeck



  1. I agree with Janet the picture books are children’s first experience with art. The illustrated story gives children unlimited imagination. “In the Small Small Pond” Denise Fleming used a mass of primary color—red, yellow, and blue. This will catch kid’s eyes. The illustration also used an exaggerated face and a oversized frog. It will help little children to understand the world.
    One of my favorite picture books had stories about a young boy’s adventures in the future. What truly amazes me today is that so many of the “futuristic” things are commonplace today, such as cell phones, hovercrafts, shopping online, etc.

  2. When I first saw these two books they reminded me of a book by Eric Carle and the book I am referring to is the mixed up chameleon. The front cover of the book is of a chameleon and its tail is of many colors. I agree with you the illustrations for children really are the story I remember asking myself when I was younger well this is weird how can a chameleon have a tail that many colors then you start looking at the pictures in the book and the pictures tell a lot of the story. I even think before kids know how to read a book with no words at all the child starts to question what the character is doing in the book or what is happening throughout the book just by pictures or actions, colors and even objects in the story. I definitely agree with you also about the many techniques the illustrator’s use and I think the main reason they use this is to make it interesting and to make the pictures pop out more to the child because that really is what catches their attention. I think young children can relate a lot better to stories in print versus on an e-reader because when they look at the stories in print they can actually see the image up close and be able to touch the picture I think there is also a more deep connection with the book and asking the many questions that children do ask. Another reason that I also think it is more relatable is that they can turn an actual page and sometimes children books have actual textures that the children can feel so it makes for a better learning experience also.

  3. This, of course, is an intriguing blog. The blending of creative writing with illustrative qualities has always been fascinating. How well a book is written is just as important as how it is illustrated, especially in the children’s field. If done incorrectly, it can have a negative impact on book sales while offering a negative experience for the child (possibly causing nightmares, for example).

    I remember when my nephew was smaller, about 6 or 7 years old. He was already into videogames. Two i gave him had mind-bendingly different impacts on him. One, Medeval, based on a clownish skeleton character banishing ghosts turned him on to science fiction. Pacman gave him terrible nighmares.

    I’ve also heard of intercity kids visiting camps in rural areas. Never having experienced nature, their reactions were suprising. Once, a small group of dear appeared from forested area in the far end of a clearing. Three children took off after it in attempts to ride them like a horse. A few others ran inside, terrified they would be eaten. Different backgrounds, different reactions.

    One memory of a childhood bookis still a dear one. I don’t remember the name of the book, but, it was on old fairytales, along the lines of Hansel and Gretel. I was always drawn more to European writing, in general. I remember the cover was fascinating, more ‘negative print’, so to speak, leaving the mind to fill in the blanks. The illustrations were so visceral as well.

    I do think digital books are going to alter how a child experiences a book. In a way, as far as I’m concerned, it is the same as relating to a giraffe,
    anteater, or harpe eagle. We can read a book and see pictures of them. Videos are better. Seeing them at a zoo is better, yet, and possibly, the near best experience to seeing such a creature in real life. In my experience, seeing something in it’s natural habitat provides for the best and most valuable way to experience such magnificance. But, not all of us can afford a safari to Kenya, Chile, Sri Lanka or some other exotic place. So, we settle, scaling back our experiences to what we can afford. It may well come down to a book and it’s illustrations that hold a child’s attention, fueling their imagination.

    • I have heard that Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are could scare young children, but I have not had that experience. I have had young children frightened by jack-o-lanterns in Halloween themed picture books. Sometimes you just don’t know how a child will react to an illustration. As an early childhood educator, choosing age appropriate books and pre-screening them is about the best you can do,

      • Thank you for your mindful reply. Prescreening is the best one can do. All children are impressionable, how they receive things and then react are two different things. Very astute point, thank you.

  4. The book that brings the best memories for me is linked below. For some reason it became both of my children’s favorite bedtime story and I swear I must have read the story about 3000 times so far. And for some reason, I never tire of it.

  5. when i was a kid i use to love the doctor Seuss books. i would have to agree that the illustrations are what catch kids eyes and keep their attention. In the Small Small Pond reminds me of the illustrations that were in my favorite during my childhood. I like how they use dark saturated colors of red, green, yellow and blues. That really make it pop and draw the attention of children. Janet asked if we think there’s a difference in ways kids relate to printed books over e-readers. I think that printed books you relate to in a different then e-readers because we spend so much time on computers and technologies. that if we are reading off a Ipad or some kind of electronic device its more likely that you wont be pulled in to the story as if you were to read a printed copy.

  6. I really liked this blog it was really interesting and it made me think about my childhood. The book that remember most about my mom reading to me was Love you forever. It is a great book it talks about the child growing up throughout life and how your mother will always love you. I read that book when ever I have a rough day. That is because I know things will get better. I also found this blog to be interesting because I could see what everyone’s favorite children’s book was.

  7. Looking at both of these book covers and trying to remember as a child of a picture book that I really liked or can just remember I dont know why but Mr Grinch comes to mind. One of these books above looks like Dora the Explorer which is somthing my daughter used to love. But other then Mr. Grinch I just cant think of anymore.

  8. For the two books i agree that they are both awesome childrens stories and i have read both! I think “The invention of hugo cabret” was a very good book but i dont think i would have choose this if it wasnt for my mom reading it to me. I think this because unlike the other childrens story this one was black and white. Usually when reading to children the first thing that catches your eyes is obviously the cover. Aside from the cover illustrations are always key and kids love colors! Anything thats bright or crazy colored. Personally my favorite childrens book was ” Brown Bear Brown Bear, What do you See?” This childrens book was published by Bill Martin, Jr. in 1967. This was one of my favorite books not only because my whole family grew up reading this but also because of its awesome imagination and use of color.

  9. Children’s stories are something that stick with us for most of our lives. Everyone can recall their favorite childhood book, and remember fondly the pictures therein. The unique and most memorable parts of these stories were their illustrations. The illustrations can inspire generations and generations of future artists, storytellers, and just everyone to hold onto that little bit of creativity throughout their life. I think that all these things hold true regardless of what medium the illustration is presented in.

  10. I think they this idea for the blog was so cute! It’s nice to have a reason to look in depth to the art work we enjoyed so much as children and couldn’t appreciate at the time. In terms of a favorite picture book I would have to say “if you give a mouse a cookie” was my go to. All the canteens are very enchanted with bigger eyes and defined outlines. The colors are normal bold and bright to attract children. What I really love about this type of art is that there alis so much room for individual style since cartoons don’t have to look like “perfect” humans it’s cool to see how each animator percieves what cartoons should look like and how to get into the head of a child. Nice choice!

    • I was so excited to see your post! I take a speech class on Saturdays and I have to do an oral reading. I’ve been practicing If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. My daughter got this book as a gift 25 years ago and that little mouse has reminded me of so many people, especially at work, that run you around in circles until you are exhausted only to end up where you started. I think there is a lesson in this for all of us! I am taking this as a good sign that I chose the right book!

  11. Janet,

    Your post really got me to thinking about my childhood and how books really do make a difference to children. When it comes time for me to have kids, I’d like to think they’d still be using books and paper material. But with the rise of technology i’m finding that this chance is less and less by the day. I really hope that drawing on physical things doesn’t die out in favor of computer generated images. Like you said in class: there’s something about opening a book that you’ve bought and knowing that it’s yours; it’s hypnotizing!

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