R. Gregory Christie has illustrated so many books for children that I can’t possibly include every one in depth in this feature, so you’ll find snapshots of many of them from his website below. I mean, wow, right? So many beautiful books, so much African American history, so much variation and yet key elements that connect the pieces and paintings in his body of work.
Christie’s art is sensational—more specifically, it’s striking in terms of emotion and impact. The expressive faces he paints, the signature stretched-out figures, the engaging perspectives and compositions, the vivid background colors. All of it comes together in paintings that if I had to pick one word to describe, I would use dynamic. They move, they emote, they dance, they gesture, they transport and convey.
He’s an NAACP Image Award winner, a Caldecott winner, has garnered the Coretta Scott King honor six times, designed the USPS Kwanzaa stamp in 2013, delivers lectures, and teaches art workshops to kids—among other notable accomplishments and meaningful pursuits.
You’ll find his work not only in picture books but in many publications and venues. He got his start creating art for jazz records after attending New York’s School of Visual Arts. His first picture book, an anthology, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children edited by Davida Adedjouma, was published by Lee & Low in 1996.
And you can find his prints and stationery at his other website, Gas-Art Gifts (“GAS” stands for “Gregarious Art Statements”).
Freedom in Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford (2016). This extraordinary book portrays enslaved Africans in New Orleans as days of toil count down to one afternoon off, Sunday, which is spent in Congo Square for music, dance, and sharing news, a place that embodied freedom. “Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”
Only Passing Through written by Anne Rockwell (2002) is an in-depth picture book biography of Sojourner Truth with the most dramatic figurative paintings throughout that emphasize emotion and perspective in inventive, surprising, powerful ways.
Lift As You Climb written by Patricia Hruby Powell (2020). This picture book profiles the extraordinary Ella Baker who worked for voting rights, always listening to people, always lifting her voice for justice, always lifting as she climbed. In this picture book, R. Gregory Christie uses some of his technicolor backgrounds, captivating compositions, and portraits that pop off the page.
The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali written by Tonya Bolden (2007). A definitive and striking biography of Muhammad Ali that captures his determination and values and boasts the most captivating cover!
I’ve been keeping an eye out for very recent picture books I think would make great gifts this year for those who are able to give this winter holiday season. These will simultaneously soothe and affirm and lift the spirits of anyone who reads them.
Please find below 16 picture books for gifting and lifting spirits!
I Am: Affirmations For Resilience by Bela Barbosa and Edel Rodriguez (2020), a bold, hopeful, beaming “tool kit for children” that teaches mindfulness, emotional regulation, resilience, and positive self-worth.
Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield (2020) is a gorgeous, hopeful poem: “Dark days may shake us and worries creep in, with dragons to duel and battles to win…But…there are footsteps to follow and words that are wise. There’s a map that will guide us when troubles arise.”
All Because You Matter, written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier (2020) is a stunning ode to a child. A Black child. A reminder that they ARE matter, the stuff of the universe. That THEY matter. They matter. “They say that matter is all the things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space…If that’s the case, then you, dear child, matter.”
Layla’s Happiness written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin Webb (2019) IS happiness, pure joy. Layla’s depiction of all the things she loves is lyrical, inventive, surprising, spunky, and sweet.
Every Child a Song by Nicola Davies and Marc Martin (2020) explores the metaphor of how each child is a unique song, each deserving of nourishment, belonging, and celebration. It was created for the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a list of 54 things every child in the world is entitled to.
Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le (2020) is a call to be the welcoming, inviting country we should be. It’s a story within a story, one modern-day, one a Persian legend, told with absolutely stunning artwork.
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (2020) is created by a dream team and is a manifesto that celebrates Black boys. It wraps its arms around them with buoying, bouncing, beautiful language and vibrant pantings, affirming their preciousness and possibility and pride.
I Will Dance written by Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Julianna Swaney (2020) celebrates wishes and wishes coming true. A wheelchair user makes a wish to dance with other dancers on her birthday “between, around, while the other dancers glide past me, tumble over me, until we are all mixed together, one beautiful laughing heap.” And her wish comes true when she joins a dance troupe for EVERYONE.
We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (2020) is a gorgeous, vital picture book that draws on Native history and culture, ancient and recent, to show how tribal nations are standing up to protect water and the earth. “We stand with our songs and our drums. We are still here. We are stewards of the Earth. Our spirits have not been broken. We are water protectors.”
Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich (2020) is, at its heart, about how imagination leads to empathy when a girl who’s just moved to a new apartment imagines her neighbors and wonders at the ways in which we’re all connected.
You Matter by Christian Robinson (2020) is a super inventive book that tells the reader they are—everyone is—precious: young, old, first, last, stuff too small to see.
Black is a Rainbow Color written by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2020) sings the song of the color black and where it’s found in nature and then goes on to sing the song of Black history and people, Black artists, Black culture. “Black is a color. Black is a culture…Black is a rainbow, too.” I featured this book in a post on Ekua Holmes’s picture book life right here.
Our Favorite Day of the Year written by A.E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell (2020) is warm, connective, and charming as it honors the beautiful quilt of traditions celebrated by children in one classroom.
Every Color of the Light: A Book About the Sky written by Hiroshi Osada, illustrated by Ryōji Arai (2020) is a poem and series of paintings about a rainstorm, simple yet sophisticated and one of the most soothing bedtime books ever.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Shahar Kober (2020) is a sweet story about two resourceful siblings who’ve just moved and can’t find their Hanukkah box to celebrate! But their lovely neighbors supply substitutions for everything they need and even though they’re not exactly what they were looking for, eventually it feels just like Hanukkah, with new friends in the building to boot!
Intersection Allies by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi, illustrations by Ashley Seil Smith, forward by Kimberlé Crenshaw (2019) is a joyful call for inclusion, joining together, making rom for all.
And for those who are able to give gifts this winter season, I hope we’ll all think of indies first to show support for the work they always do and to help with the challenges they face now. Here are some of my favorite independent bookstores in LA and elsewhere (of course there are more and likely a wonderful one near you!).
This picture book is pure genius. First of all, it’s narrated by a chair!
Funny, inventive, and super kid-centric, The Bad Chair is a story for anyone who’s ever felt lonely and left out and maybe gone about trying to be part of things in not-the-best way.
You see, “More than anything, Chair wanted to be in on the game.” And while it’s never stated, the game is hide-and-seek. Vivi plays hide-and-seek every night. Only she plays it with Monkey, not with Chair.
Each character is illustrated for us as though they are real, they are animate. They have eyes and expressions. But still, this is Vivi’s world, the world of a child’s imagination. She (may have been!) orchestrating this whole thing—it’s up to you to decide. Vivi arranges objects in a certain way. She leads investigations with about where Monkey is with the objects. She dances with her stuffed monkey. She reminds me of myself when I was a kid. She might also remind you of you.
But still, it is Chair we really feel for. Feeling left out, left behind, left in the dark. And then, when Chair handles their feelings by doing something not so great, we get to experience Chair’s desperation and despair, and then, regret. But really, The Bad Chair isn’t bad. We understand that Chair wants to be in on the game. We all get that.
Setting is a big deal here, of course, seeing as Chair is part of the setting. The whole book takes place essentially in the living room of Vivi’s home, with all of its objects. Dasha’s artwork is perfect for this: bright, cheerful, some sketched, some painted, cloudy washes of color, so many fun, colorful patterns. Every item is thoughtfully crafted: Vivi’s sleuthing hat, the cat’s blank, white silhouette and long eyelashes, kettle’s upturned nose, all the different plants.
The cover of this book alone hinted it might beckon for a craft. And it did! So I invited Meg of Finding Stuff Club to make a super special craft for The Bad Chair that could also be a game. She delivered big time!
Over to Meg!
In The Bad Chair – all Chair wants to do is play a game of hide-and-seek. This craft gives The Bad Chair an opportunity to do exactly that! Follow the simple instructions below to make your very own The Bad Chair: Hide & Seek Game Craft. Hide the chairs around your home and see if a friend or family member can find them all!
What you’ll need:
6 pieces of 8.5 x 11 construction paper or colored cardstock
Crayons and paint
Step 1: Make your envelope.
Place your paper down horizontally. Make a 4″x 5″ rectangle in the middle of your sheet of paper. Draw two rectangles on either side of the square, 2.5″ wide. Draw a 1″ flap at the top of the rectangle, about 1″ flap at the bottom of the square. Cut out your shape and fold along the edges of the square. Glue the side and bottom flaps together to create an envelope. Is that too much of a mouthful? Take an envelope apart and see how it is constructed to help.
Step 2: Decorate your paper
Pick out pieces of paper that match colors you see in the book. Be inspired by the different patterns! Draw stars, dots, and stripes that mimic what you see. The patterns should cover the entire sheet of paper.
Step 3: Make your chair template
Draw a flat chair template that fits within the 4″x 5″ rectangle of the envelope. The chair should be a square with 4 legs of equal size and a back. When you cut it out and fold it, it should stand up straight (like a chair!).
Step 5: Trace your chair
Flatten your chair template. Trace the chair shape on each piece of patterned paper.
Step 6: Cut out your chairs
Cut out your chairs and fold them to make sure they can stand up.
Step 7: Play the game!
Hide the chairs around your house. Play with one person to see if they can find them all or play with a group to see who can find the most. Store in your envelope when done!
Thanks so much, Meg!
Meg Eplett is a Creative Director and Illustrator living in Brooklyn. She loves working on kid projects, kid brands, kid anything (because kids stuff is way more fun). You can see her work at eplettdesign.com or visit @findingstuff.club—a kids’ resource she founded with her friend to help parents during COVID and beyond.
I’ve featured Dasha’s work before, in this post from 2015 on A Year Without Mom, her middle grade graphic novel.
I haven’t published a “picture books for pairing post” in so long! Here’s one showcasing two picture books I couldn’t help but envision together in a storytime or stack.
They both are about mothers and daughters. They both are about spending time together and the bond between them being their center. They both are about coping when things don’t go as planned. They both have totally distinct styles but are both utterly beautiful.
This picture book is full of paintings as evocative as the accompanying words. It is full of moments. Full of details in the text and details in the art like flowers, curtains, wallpaper, the textures of a home. Full of objects and observations the narrator notices about her day, her day spent with her mama—her constant.
It exudes togetherness and love in the simplest things: a morning, an oatmeal breakfast, their rain boots, their toothbrushes, a walk in the rain. And when there is a mishap, a cup breaks, that is perfectly okay because the narrator is with her mama. And the book ends with her knowing that she’s always with her, a soothing, steady balm.
This picture book features vibrantly exuberant pastel collage art, energetic language, and a mother-child relationship that is honest and connected and full of love. It is also about a particular day—Saturday!—that has a very particular and special, splendid routine, a routine that on this Saturday has one big mishap, and then more to follow.
But this story embodies resilience. Because with each mishap, with each potential ruined outing, mother and Ava keep on and bounce back and come up with creative solutions. Why? Because they have each other. And that is the most special, splendid thing there is. It’s all they need.
“Saturday was the day they cherished.”
You may also want to check out the collage card craft I made for Thank You, Omu!, also by Oge Mora.
This picture book is a tribute to Shirley Chisholm and her verbs, her doing, her work and guts and courage. And the way she raised her voice as part of that. In Barbados, “…her teachers taught Shirley how to SPEAK up, and they helped her understand the power of words.” In Brooklyn, she became a teacher herself.
She helped people. Stood up for people. She was part of organizing Head Start. She ran for State Assembly and won. She ran for Congress and won. In 1968, she was the first Black woman elected to Congress!
She took action upon action. She spoke up and then spoke up again. She ran for President! In doing so, Chisholm inspired so many people and paved the way for so many others.
Rachelle Baker’s bold artwork in this biography portrays the spirit of the time as well as Chisholm’s dynamism.
This picture book is a treasure of inspiration, of poems and illustrations by kidlit creators, each featuring a young person creating change.
Some of these kids may be familiar to you, some of them may not, but every spread showcases one kid, their brief bio, a call to action, and a poem in their honor by acclaimed writers like Hena Khan, Traci Sorell, Carole Boston Weatherford, Andrea J. Loney, and Nikki Grimes.
A variety of amazing young people for readers to admire and take a cue from, 14 different journeys and issues of activism that matter to them, that matter to us all.
This picture book captures the life of writer, fighter, and question-asker Ethel L. Payne who grew up in Chicago and “always had an ear for stories.”
Payne also had a lot of courage and persistence—when her school newspaper wouldn’t let a Black student write for it, when she worked toward social change in her neighborhood, when she set her sights on traveling the world as a journalist.
All that courage and persistence landed Payne in the press room of the White House asking important questions as “First Lady of the Black Press.” She documented history—and she was part of it—pushing for civil rights, for answers, and for change.
This non-fiction account is complemented by John Parra’s unmistakable illustrations full of color, texture, and symbols.
This picture book profiles Ella Baker, who took it to heart when her mother told her: “Lift as you climb.”
As a child, Ella Baker looked after neighbor kids and worked on the farm where her grandparents had been enslaved. She worked hard in school at her studies and as a waitress to pay for those studies. She moved to New York City where she worked hard for the NAACP, for the rights of Black Americans.
She worked for voting rights, always listening to people, always lifting her voice for justice, and always lifting as she climbed.
R. Gregory Christie’s art is extraordinary in this book, as always: technicolor backgrounds, captivating compositions, and portraits that pop off the page.
Thanks to Penguin Young Readers and Charlesbridge, I’m giving away two picture books—if you’re a a teacher or librarian, enter below to win a copy of SHIRLEY CHISHOLM IS A VERB and NO VOICE TOO SMALL below! (US only.)