I’m filled with joy to be able to share our book with you and with children, all of whom are makers too!
It inspires and is an ode to the creative process with these steps:
gather, make, wait.
Those building blocks of making have meant so much to me and my own process, and this book reflects a lot of making and fifteen years specifically of my own work making picture book manuscripts. So today is the birthday of the first one of those to be an actual book! Honestly, and thankfully, the timing feels exactly right. My hope is that the story helps kid readers believe that they, too, have all the reason in the world to “keep making.” That is its heart and why I wrote it in the first place.
And the biggest thanks to illustrator Mags DeRoma
for going on this journey with me
and for stunning, scrumptious, story-rich illustrations!
And to the most stellar editor, Mabel Hsu at Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, Amy Ryan (art director), Molly Fehr (designer), and Hannah Mann who agented this project with courage and creativity.
As a way of celebrating, you’re invited to view this special stop animation book trailer.
My partner and I collaborated on a concept and then he and a truly stellar, caring crew brought it to life. I am forever grateful.
I give you 16 creativity-packed picture books that inspire me. I’ve chosen them specifically from my own life as a writer because they have spoken to me, either years ago or else become recent favorites. I hope you’ll add one of your favorite picture books on the topic in the comments!
Here’s to creativity and the picture books that inspire more of it!
Show the World! written by Angela Dalton illustrated by Daria Peoples (2022).
Picked because it’s super packed with self-expression of all different kinds and centers Black children shining as they show the world what they love and do.
Picked because this new favorite playfully shows us that following our curiosity, breaking the rules, and getting messy are part of any artistic process. Plus, Mayel Creates made a wonderful office supply garland craft to match it!
Picked because this Basquiat picture book biography is incredible and captures not only his story, but how his story exemplifies that art is infused in place and culture. “Art is the street games of little children, in our style and the words that we speak. It is how the messy patchwork of the city creates new meaning for ordinary things.”
Picked because this is one of my favorite books about creativity, and I’ve never posted it on my blog! Wordless and meta too, it’s filled with joy, surprise, and creative camaraderie.
Studio by Emily Arrow and The Little Friends of Printmaking (2019).
Picked because it’s an ode to being you and finding your singular expression and space to cultivate it before sharing that with the world. It’s exuberant, and I’ll also disclose: dedicated to me by Emily Arrow! It’s a special book and that detail makes it incredibly special on my personal bookshelf as well.
Picked because I love all of Thao Lam‘s work, and this wordless because contains a whole world that imagination makes possible. A world in which a shy girl gains just the courage she needs through her own creativity and resourcefulness. Plus, I made a corresponding fun paper creature craft for it a couple of years back!
Picked because Louise Bourgeois is one of my very favorite non-living artists and this is a handy little compendium of her inspiring life. A fond memory of mine is seeing her giant spider sculpture, “Maman,” in Tokyo a few years go. The meaning of it, for me, is very different than for her, but I found it powerful and haunting and moving. “By using art to confront her fears, little Louise became one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, and the grandmother of modern art.”
Picked because: more Louise Bourgeois and because it’s exquisite in depicting a life woven together with the threads of her childhood, her mother, their family tapestry business, Parisian fabrics, memory, and stitching itself.
Picked because I’ve admired this wordless story and its art for a long time, and actually got to see Tao Nyeu‘s art show exhibit of this book back in the day. It’s about children who plant seeds that grow into something wildly magical—an embodiment of creativity.
Picked because this team is truly brilliant and this story truly speaks to kids, especially those who are dyslexic (and because my partner downloaded the font the text was printed in because he’s dyslexic and an artist like Aaron Slater too). “…beauty and kindness and loving and art lend courage to all with a welcoming heart.”
Picked because the phrase “little bit of nothing” for what every story starts with is fantastic. And this book about storytelling is fantastic and fantastical and too.
Julia, Child words by Kyo Maclear pictures by Julie Morstad (2013).
Picked because this one (written by a favorite author, Kyo Maclear), is creative in its very concept: a fictional tale of a kitchen-loving child who bears some resemblance to Julia Child. It’s ingredients: friendship, slow-down, sweetness, wonder, and imagination. Oh and Coco Cakeland made chocolate almond cupcakes to celebrate it with me a few years back!
This picture book absolutely blooms, like the flower of the main character’s name and the ones that grace her comb, hair, and surroundings in the pages.
Kes (kay-s) in Panjabi means hair. And this story is about Kamal’s hair.
It blossoms with honesty about Kamal’s feelings about her hair, her difficult but ultimately welcoming feelings. It blossoms with a captivating blend of text and design. It blossoms with evocative artwork, with colors that reflect the earth and flowers. It blossoms with imagination. And it blossoms with a journey toward self-love that kids need to experience.
Like every offering from independent publisher, Saffron Press, it’s made with so much intentionality (and I know from being friends with the founder how much intentionality goes into everything Saffron Press does, truly). From Baljinder Kaur’s dedication (“For every being who inspires me to strive for better”) and lotus endpapers to the gorgeous cover’s mix of gloss and matte and FSC-assured paper to that wonderful journal page at the back, “A letter to mySelf” for kids to reflect and write on, Kamal’s Kes is imbued with care for books and for those who read them.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
Kid readers will recognize themselves in the story as they, too, either face or anticipate the prospect of growing up. Of changing. Of journeying into a different state from childhood and how jarring and painful that can be, especially when they don’t feel accepted for who they are as they change.
Once a source of pleasure and admiration, as it grows and appears elsewhere, Kamal’s hair becomes a sore spot. An unruly thing. A burden she wants to rid herself of because of “the stares” she receives. She begins to see herself in a distorted, disconnected way.
I love how Kamal’s portrayed as a monster, wild thing-esque. The portrayal reflects, to me, the way we feel when we’re lost in the suffering of rejection—from others, from ourselves. The middle of the book is a tumble of color and composition toward this next striking spread that puts us right there with Kamal in her desperation, her separation from herself, a painful place to be.
But Kamal is not there forever. She experiences hope. Acceptance. Self-love. The joy of being her.
“I am beautiful, Kamal whispered, and she dug her toes deeper into the earth, decorating herself with wisdom older than the sun.”
Kamal’s Kes is an incredibly joyful, hopeful, loving gift for children to embrace themselves and, like the earth and flowers, truly bloom.
I’m so thrilled that Baljinder Kaur, the incredible artist and author-illustrator of Kamal’s Kes!!, is here to share a companion craft for this picture book. It was so kind of her to answer my approach with a yes to the idea of creating something! And that something is is fitting, meaningful, lovely. I hope you and yours will make one too.
Over to Baljinder!
The word Kamal also means lotus flower and has great spiritual significance in Sikh thought as a metaphor for an aspiring state of being. Just as the lotus floats and blooms amidst the murky waters, so can our being in the murkiness of our worlds. In this craft we’ll be making our own lotus flowers to celebrate Kamal’s own blooming in the story. These paper flowers can be used as decoration and serve as a reminder that we can all bloom and rise in our own unique and beautiful ways.
Thank you, Baljinder, for this book and this wonderful companion craft!!
Baljinder Kaur is an illustrator nestled in the middle of England, UK. She is passionate about the power of children’s books and their ability to transcend barriers and transform our social landscapes. She enjoys exploring through themes of the fantastical, the allegorical and the enchantingly ordinary. Her work often, and intimately reflects through the lens of a Panjabi and Sikh diaspora existence.
As a child of immigrants, she’s keen to share stories that help us to connect deeper; stories that celebrate our differences as well as our wonderfully interconnected nature.
Baljinder recently graduated with distinction from Cambridge School of Art with a Masters degree in Children’s Book Illustration. She was also awarded the 2022 CSACBI Illustration for Older Fiction Prize. Her work has been published by Penguin Random House, Saffron Press and Mighty Khalsa.
We all can learn so so much from picture books (I know I do!). So here’s a list of 18 standout non-fiction picture books that illuminate historical figures, events, science, nature, culture, math, art, and more! I hope you get to check out some of these because all of them will speak of our world and inspire kids (and you) to know more, to care more, to experience more.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone words by Traci N. Todd pictures by Christian Robinson (2021). This treasure of a book pops and sings and draws you in. “Nina was done with being polite. As far as she could tell, politeness had gotten her people nothing.”
One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (2022) is part of a wonderful series, and in this newest installment, Mehrdokht Amini’s illustrations struck me even more—particularly the ones whose compositions zoom in so the rich colors and textures come alive.
Where the Wee Ones Go by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Zosienka (2022) is soothing and illuminating (and just the right amount of sad and hopeful) about the “vulnerable animal babies” the author and illustrator capture in this bedtime book.
The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi and Loveis Wise (2021) is an extraordinary illustrated poem that’s also an expansive history of the African diaspora while illuminating the principles of Kwanzaa. It’s about the past, but also about the present and future and the myriad ways Black Americans have shaped the world.
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (2021). A story that fabulously incorporates interactive math as Bo searches for just the right container to display his marbles at his family’s booth at Cherokee National Holiday. You can learn some Cherokee words in the back as well!
Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins (2021) is an imaginative, spatial exploration of shapes, of prepositions, of how we see, what we see, and the relationships of things. And it is deeply smart and satisfying.
A Shape Shifting Adventure in Hawai’i written by Daniel Frates, illustrated by Jamie Meckel Tablason (2021) is the tale of a line who takes many exciting shapes while traveling around their Hawai’i home.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (2021) starts with a genealogical school assignment that leads to an honoring history of the main character’s African ancestors. It celebrates African cultures and peoples, unflinchingly describes being stolen and enslaved, and praises Black resistance, joy, and pride.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (2021) speaks the unspeakable and doesn’t turn away from the truth of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in a truly incredible book.
This picture book contains humor, invention and so much delight. Not only that, but fabulous surprises await both the main character and the lucky reader!
I would sum up the heart of Off-Limits this way: art and expression are all about following your curiosity—as well as sometimes getting messy and breaking the rules.
That’s exactly what the main character does. She follows her curiosity. She breaks the rule that her dad’s office is off-limits. She creates fun stuff, expressing herself while making not just a mess, but lots of JOY.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
There is a wonderfully sneaky quality to the opening spreads of Off-Limits that builds throughout. The main character takes one curious, playful step into her dad’s off-limits space. And then another. She starts to tinker, to make, to play. First, one piece of tape, then whole a lamp scarf made of tape, then PAPER CLIPS AND BINDER CLIPS!
Each new office supply brings another moment of discovery. Of fun. Of creativity (and not a little bit of festive chaos). And just when the main character’s doing some more sneaking around, well, let’s just say there’s a BIG, JOYFUL SURPRISE! But I cannot give it away here. That’s for your own moment of discovery.
This new favorites shelf picture book had me engaged, captivated, delighted, and finally amazed and laughing aloud.
Off-Limits is such a perfect book to craft with, to make a beautiful mess with, to celebrate with! I’m so happy that my friend Mayel, paper artist extraordinaire, is here to show us how with an office supplies garland or two!
Hello, my name is Mayel. I’m an artist, designer, creator of fun and pretty things at mayelcreates.com. I often create artful activities for kids to encourage making and life filled with art. This is my second craft here on This Picture Book Life (here’s my first one) and it’s my pleasure to collaborate with Danielle again.
Off-Limits is such a delightful book. My children are obviously welcome and encouraged to create whatever they want with all my supplies, and I have a lot of them. Though sometimes they are still attracted to create things out of the stuff you’d least expect, e.g. cardboard boxes, paper clips, staples. All are fun to see!
So here’s a couple of fun garland crafts you and your kid can do together with some office supplies you probably already have in your home.
Let’s get started!
What you’ll need:
Scrap paper (any old paperwork or school paper will do fine)
Stapler with staples
Step 1: First take one of your scrap paper and fold it accordion style about 4-5 folds like in A and B. I used old school work paper so I can repurpose them. You can use any used paper work.
Step 2: Cut the folded paper into 3 equal pieces (C). Then carefully cut out a heart shape with each piece. Make sure to not cut the sides that are connected to each other when cutting the heart out so the hearts will stay attached (D). Now you can unfold the piece and you’ll have your first garland. Repeat this process if you’d like a longer garland. You can staple the ends of your heart garlands together to make them into one long piece.
Let’s start with the heart garland.
Now, let’s play with the Post-Its.
Step 1: Take a few sheets of Post-Its in a stack, maybe 3-4, so you can design a few sheets at a time. Make sure to turn the sheets so the sticky tab part is at the top of your design. Use your scissors to make designs on the bottom of the Post-Its. I have different types of scissors. I have one that cuts patterns and one that cuts strips at one time. They are fancy, I know, but they are so much fun to have. You can get them at any craft store or online. If you do not have these fancy scissors, no worries, just use regular simple scissors and cut any design or lines you’d like on the Post-Its. For example, I just cut out triangles on picture I.
Step 2: Then, when you feel like you have enough Post-Its sheets to put a garland together, peel off each sheet from one another and line them up. Use the corners of the sticky sides to attach each sheet together like in picture J. Keep adding on sheets to make a longer garland.
Let’s see them all together! I’ve placed my garlands on a blank wall. The Post-It garlands will fortunately stick on by themselves. I made a few different ones here, some alternating colors, some the same color and design. Then, add on the heart scrap paper garlands you’ve made on top with pieces of tape on the ends.
Now you have fun decor out of office supplies!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this crafting activity with ordinary office supplies and had fun with your kids at the same time. See more of my activities and crafts on Insta: MayelCreates.