Tag Archives: children’s books

Thao Lam’s Picture Book Life + giveaway

Thao Lam is one of my favorite makers. Her picture books are inventive, original, resonant, and risk-taking in a way that pops in terms of both style and meaning.

A paper collage artist, the art Lam creates is textured, patterned, and fresh. For some books, it’s colorful and a bit wacky. For The Paper Boat, it’s muted, grounded, and striking, with familiar imagery on captivating backgrounds for dramatic compositions and combinations. Her stories are fresh and oftentimes deeply personal whether about a concept, creativity, or Thao herself in one of my all-time favorite picture books that was jaw-dropping when I first read it and remains a total inspiration for its content and for showing what this special form can become.


The latest: The Line in the Sand (2022)

“The most enjoyable part of bringing this story to life was creating all the little monsters…I intentionally made The Line In The Sand a wordless picture book because misunderstandings are often due to a lack of communication. By not including text, readers are now left to their own interpretation of the situation; will they be right or wrong? Or do they just have a different perspective?”

—Thao Lam from this interview on Owlkids. 



The memoir: THAO (2021).

“This one I wrote for me so I could cleanse my head of all the issues with my name that I had dealt with. I’ve been lucky that every time I write a book, it’s also something that somebody else has dealt with or taken an interest in.”

—Thao Lam from this interview with the CBC. 



Another true story inventively, movingly told: The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story (2020).

“I was two when my family fled Vietnam, so I have no recollection of our journey across the South China Sea. My mother often tells the story of her mom leaving a bowl of sugar water on the table to trap ants in the house. My mother, then a little girl, would sit there for hours and rescue them. On the night of our escape she got lost in the tall grass. Spotting a trail of ants in the moonlight, she followed them to the river where a boat awaited: the ants my mother rescued as a little girl saved her in return that night. These images of kindness and karma woven by my mother were the only facts I knew about the war and our escape. They helped shape me and guide me through life. This story with the ants and the sugar water became the cornerstone of The Paper Boat.”


—Thao Lam from this interview with Open Book.



The imaginative, magical companion for a new-to-towner: Wallpaper (2018).


“The inspirations for my stories come from taking a walk, on the subway, standing in line at the bank—anywhere where you’re forced to wait that’s when my imagination kind of runs wild. The way the story starts for me is that I get an image in my head and with that image I start asking questions. If I find myself asking a lot of questions about an image, I would start plotting it down. I call it a ‘brain dump.'”

—Thao Lam from  this in-studio video with Owlkids.



The goofy one with a fresh perspective for us all: My Cat Looks Like My Dad (2019).




The first one: Skunk on a String (2016).




In honor of this post and Thao Lam’s picture book life, Owlkids is giving away all five of her picture books to one lucky reader! Enter in the rafflecopter below!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Big thanks to Owlkids Books for images and books for our giveway winner! (North America only.) 



You might want to check out my WALLPAPER + Paper Creature Craft post if you’re in the mood to make something fun!











new picture books for now

I’ve got another roundup for you! Last time, it was 15 picture books for comfort. This time, it’s new and forthcoming picture books for the singular, uncertain time that is now.

New picture books I recommend for now come in two categories: picture books that nourish readers and picture books that focus on nature, both things we need.


You Matter by Christian Robinson (out June 2, 2020).

This picture book! It’s a new forever favorite. Super inventive in storytelling, scope, and style, You Matter says exactly that: you matter. Old, young, first, last, stuff too small to see.

Why now? All kids need to know they matter in the middle of big, scary stuff. 


Why do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera and Ana Sender (2020).

An exploration of the many reasons we cry with acceptance and understanding of them all.

Why now? All the feelings and ups and downs. 


I Am Brown by Ashok Banker, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (2020).

A celebration of brown-skinned kids—the wide scope of their play and food and languages and aspirations and pastimes and possibilities. This picture book brims with vibrance and joy.

Why now? We always need to celebrate kids, their experiences, their moments, their futures, and to show kids themselves in books. 


The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho, illustrated by Jess X. Snow (out August 2020).

This gorgeous book centers Haenyeo or women divers in South Korea who can hold their breath for up to two minutes, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The purple and orange sunset illustrations are breathtaking and the experience of Dayeon going diving with her grandmother captures the fear and relatable false starts of trying anything new.

Why now? Kids and all of us are facing new things, diving new depths. 


Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher (2020).

An invitation to take time to notice the moments and beauty all around us featuring children from all over the world.

Why now? Now is a time to remember awareness and stillness and small connections. 


Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby (2020).

Another gorgeous picture book that invites the outside in, that shows us how it’s always with us, whose brush strokes and speckles capture its wonder, light, and magic.

Why now? We are more attuned to the outside as we spend time inside and alone—this book reminds that outside is always with us.


A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis (2020).

A guessing game of natural elements—original and playful like all of Portis’s work!

Why now? Playfulness and nature are bright spots in the gloom.


Hike by Pete Oswald (2020).

A day spent hiking, a son and a father who is a supportive, nurturing companion and safety net. Mostly wordless, refreshing, buoying, sweet.

Why now? Hikes with family are a-okay right now, they are healing, they are one way we can connect and grow. 



The Big Bang Book by Asa Stahl, illustrated by Carly Allen-Fletcher (2020).

This picture book explores the big bang by an astrophysics student—what we know, what we don’t know, and the possibility of what we might know someday—with epic illustrations of how our galaxy and planet came to be.

Why now? Absorbing the massiveness of the universe might help with taking the long view of time and circumstance.




picture book gems a librarian recommends: alia from read it real good

I’m thrilled to have Alia from Read it Real Good here to share picture book gems she recommends as a librarian, former bookseller, and blogger! You can learn more about her here and check out her list of resources on diverse children’s literature from her blog as well. Get ready to go to the bookstore or have your library card ready because she’s sharing some of her favorite recent and backlist picture books with us!


Over to Alia!



 Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne/Jess X. Snow


This illustrated poem begins with “This book is for you.” And yes it is. It is unabashedly black, young and full of truth and positive affirmations for young black women. Perfect for ages 7 – tween, Black Girl Magic is raw and honest. Snow’s illustrations beautifully accompany Browne’s powerful poetry. Yes, black girls, you are magic. You are strong and let NO ONE tell you any different.









Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim


It’s hard to believe that this is Julie Kim’s debut picture book. Well, it’s more of a picture book/graphic novel hybrid. Korean-American kids Joon and his Noona (big sister) visit their grandmother’s house to find that she’s gone, the house is a mess and huge cat-prints are everywhere! >_< Kim takes readers on a journey to a land of trickster rabbits, hungry goblins and angry tigers.










 El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan – Furqan’s First Flat Top by Robert Liu-Trujillo & translated by Cinthya Muñoz

Ten year old Furqan takes a trip to the barbershop for his first cut. He wants to try a new flat top for his thick, curly hair, but he’s a little scared of change. His dad lovingly reassures him that his hair is gonna come out fresh, no matter what. We get a peek into Furqan’s daily life. This bilingual story features loving parents and a supportive community. Liu-Trujillo’s watercolor & ink illustrations portray so much joy and love.









Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones  by Susan Hughes/Ashley Barron


I love picture books that use non-traditional mediums like paper, cloth, string, etc. Barron’s illustrations for Up! are gorgeous and unique. They invite you to stare at them for long moments. We learn a bit about how different people around the world carry & transport their little ones. I love the inclusiveness of the illustrations and the bouncy rhythm of the text.









All Around Us  by Xelena González/Adriana M. Garcia


It’s special whenever our elders share knowledge with us; it’s something not to be taken for granted. All Around Us is about a little girl and the lessons she learns from her grandfather. They have such a beautiful relationship! He teaches her about circles, continuity and how people are a part of the earth. The illustrations are so beautifully TRIPPY. I appreciate how this book celebrates family, indigeneity and tradition.







We Are Brothers by Yves Nadon/Jean Claverie


Black brotherly love. Strength. Growing up. This quiet picture book explores the relationship between two brothers and how love, support and encouragement are so important. Climbing up and jumping off the top of a cliff into a lake sure is scary but…you’ll never know how much fun it is until you try. I love the soft illustrations in this book and the scenes of transformation.









Backlist Favorites:


Where Do We Go When We Disappear?  by Isabel Minhós Martins/Madalena Matoso


This is a reflective and thought-provoking picture book about death, loss, or the simple act of someone/something being gone. When I was a bookseller, it was hard to find good books to give to parents to help their kids grieve. This is a great one because it helps begin a discussion about CHANGE. Matoso’s illustrations are bold and colorful and Martins is such a thoughtful writer.






Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson/Sydney Smith


A young girl and her father take a walk through their neighborhood. Though he’s on his phone for most of the journey, he is present. He is there. She’s on a mission to find flowers and share them as gifts. Smith’s use of color is exquisite in this wordless picture book. We see color when we need to. We watch it bloom. We watch their love as they walk together.








Ten Nine Eight  by Molly Bang


Wow, what a throwback this one is. I remember it from my childhood. Can I tell you how special it is to see a little black girl sitting with her daddy, eyes sleepy, getting ready for bed? With its soft, warm illustrations, this book reminds me of the love I shared with my father. Ten, Nine, Eight is a counting book that also celebrates Black Family. It’s also available as a board book! How perfect. 🙂









Alia Jones is a Sr. Library Services Assistant with The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She is also a former indie children’s bookseller and English teacher in South Korea. She blogs about diverse books & children’s literature at www.readitrealgood.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @readitrealgood. Alia believes that we are truly in a Picture Book Renaissance; there is so much talent out there.












Duncan Tonatiuh’s picture book life

In this”their picture book life” installment, I bring you the wonderful picture books of Duncan Tonatiuh, award-winning author/illustrator. In my mind, his books expand the boundaries of the form by using new, unexpected story techniques, something I absolutely love and admire. His books ask questions directly of readers and bring the past right into the present and into kids’ lives. They experiment and enlighten. And they always do so in Tonatiuh’s distinctive illustrative style, which is inspired by “Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.”

He’s lived in both Mexico and the U.S. so many of his books explore Mexico’s history and influential figures, as well as Mexican culture in the states.






Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (2015). Perfect for learning about Day of the Dead, this book explores the life and art of Posada and how he developed his skeleton or skull calaveras drawings. It also expands boundaries of the picture book form with sections that outline specific artistic processes and funny calaveras poems interspersed within the story.  Its many layers are supremely effective.


“I try to make books about things that I’m passionate about

–social justice, history, art…”

                                                 (From NBC.)




Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (2014). I’ve blogged about this title a couple of times before (here and here) because I think it’s so terrific and important, particularly because I live in California. It tells how the Mendez family fought for equal, integrated education in a case that preceded Brown vs. Board of Education by ten years.


“I think kids are extremely intelligent.

But I think that sometimes we don’t give them the credit they deserve.”

                                                     (From NBC.)



Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This allegorical story follows a young rabbit who desperately misses his father and sets out to follow and find him by undertaking a treacherous journey. The author’s note in the back matter sheds light on the true experiences of undocumented immigrants who cross the border in search of a better life.


“As I spent more time away from Mexico,

I began to miss things that were around me when I was a kid.

I also became interested in issues that affect people of Mexican descent

on both sides of the border.”

                                                                                                                       (From The Horn Book.)


The Princess and the Warrior (2016). The combination of text and art really shine in this riveting story and I dare you not to tear up at the end.



Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin (2010). Tonatiuh’s first children’s book in which two cousins, one in the US and one in Mexico, exchange letters and learn about one another’s lives.


“I think it’s very important for children to see books where they see themselves.

When they see a book where they see their culture represented

and different things that they can identify with, I think they are much more motivated to read, to write and,

just in general,

to realize that their voices, their stories are important.”

                                                                                                                       (From PBS.)


Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (2011). A biography of Diego Rivera followed by a fascinating exploration of how he might portray our world today and encouragement to readers to make their own murals, inspired by Rivera’s legacy. This is something Tonatiuh does brilliantly with non-fiction: invites the reader directly into the story to participate and imagine how it might affect their own lives.



DANZA! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México (2017). I adore the illustrations of all kinds of dance and performances in this one! Ami, dancer and choreographer, is known for creating “ballets based on the folkloric danzas from the different regions of Mexico.” Her company still performs in Mexico City as they’ve been doing for fifty years.

I hope you’ll check out Duncan Tonatiuh’s books!



You might also be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life on Kyo Maclear.














hannah and sugar + an interview with Kate Berube

HannahAndSugarHannah and Sugar (2016) by Kate Berube.


Kate Berube’s debut is terrific. It’s a girl and a dog book. A fear book. An overcoming your worries in order to connect book.

(Just look at that cover! The way these two mirror each other, those glimmers of pink!)


HannahandSugar_4.72.dpiBerube’s economy of storytelling really stuck out to me. She does this, in part, through repetition in her set up. Every day. Every day. Every day. Every single day. And then, one different day! Every day Sugar is there. And every day Hannah says, “No thank you,” when asked to pet her. As a reader, you wonder why she says that. But you kind of know too.


There’s this celled spread that shows us so effortlessly the passage of time and how things stay the same. Every day, a dog. Every day a girl saying no but toying with saying yes. Wondering what would happen if. Just look at her eyes and the tilt of her head every time!



That goodbye spread really gets to me, and it has echoes on other spreads too in affecting ways. It shows us so much. The connection between these two. The feeling of being drawn to something and knowing you’re missing out on it, but unable to change things. Not yet.



Until the different day. The day Sugar is not there. And that’s a big day for Hannah. Things change then because she’s worried not about herself, but about Sugar. She’s wondering what it would be like to be lost. She puts herself in Sugar’s place and she’s able, from there, to be brave.


She’s able to take a risk for a sweet dog who’s waiting to be her friend.





This Picture Book Life:Where did the idea for HANNAH AND SUGAR come from? What was the process of creating it (words and art)? 

Kate Berube: The idea for Hannah and Sugar came to me in a couple of ways. First, I was trying to be more brave in my life at the time I was writing it and was thinking a lot about what it really means to be brave.  I had been mulling over the idea that bravery isn’t really about confidence or boldness, it’s about doing something you are afraid to do—having fear and doing it anyway. I realized that most of the best things in life are a little scary at first.

With that in mind I decided I wanted to write a story about a fear that would be something children could relate to. One day, years ago, I was at the bus stop to pick up some kids I was taking care of and one of the neighborhood families had adopted a dog. All the kids came streaming off the bus and beelined for the new dog, all except one little boy. I couldn’t tell you if that little boy was afraid of dogs or just indifferent but it gave me an idea. That moment inspired the first two spreads of the book.

Of course, it all seems so simple and straightforward in retrospect. It wasn’t AT ALL simple or straightforward at the time. I had many ideas I was playing with and I wasn’t sure which I liked best and which I should be focusing on. I wrote many, many unfinished stories about different fears and also about completely different things altogether. Once I did narrow down my focus to a story about a girl who was afraid of dogs – I still wrote many, many drafts to get the story to where it is now.

I’m currently working on writing a new book and it’s an interesting and frustrating process. I often find myself wishing a finished and perfect story would just come to me all at once. But then I remember that’s just not how it works and that the process of creating a story can be really fun if I can stop focusing on whether or not it’s any good.The only way forward is to try and fail and then try again. That’s my process for both drawing and writing. I just keep trying different things until I find something I like.

TPBL: Are you a dog person/what dogs have you loved?


KB: I wasn’t always a dog person but I am now. The Sugar in the story is named for my real life dog. The real life Sugar has only one eye – which makes her extra cute.

She came into my life through a boyfriend I’d been dating for only a few months. When he told me he was getting a dog I thought to myself, “Well, that might be the end of this relationship!” I just didn’t get the dog thing – they seemed like a nuisance to me – messy and a lot of work.

But, how that changed when I got to know Sugar. I finally understood it. Yeah, she’s messy and takes some work but it’s always more than worth it. She gives me so much love and comfort. Now the boyfriend who introduced me to Sugar is my husband and I cannot imagine life without either of them. Sugar lays beside me in the studio all day as I work and we take lots of walks. Anytime I feel sad or stressed she is there to snuggle up to. I adore her.


TPBL: I love the page that’s all muddy black with the words “Hannah closed her eyes and took a deep breath” very much. It’s so authentic to what it feels like to be really scared and about to face that fear. When and how did that page come about? 

KB: I have a sketch book somewhere with that idea in it – an all black page with little words on the bottom “she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.” I think I came up with it on the bus one day – unrelated to this story. And then it just sat in the back of my mind and thankfully came to me when I was writing this story.

I think that’s how a lot of writing books works – we come up with ideas here and there and jot them down and then if we’re lucky we remember them at the right moment and fit the right ones together to tell a story.


TPBL: Who are some picture book creators working today/some picture books you most admire? Who are your influences? 

KB: I have a background in observational painting and perhaps it’s not something obvious in my work, but I think all the years of studying painting has had a huge influence on how I create illustrations. Some painters I’ve loved since I was young: Rembrandt, Matisse, Cezanne, Degas, Corot, Monet, Van Gogh, Vuillard, Bonnard, Giacometti, Hokusai, Hopper, Dubuffet, Morandi, Moore, Diebenkorn, Basquiat, Fairfield Porter, Hockney.

As far as children’s book creators – I could list hundreds! I used to work at Powell’s Books in the kid’s room and I read as many children’s books as I possibly could. There are so many who’ve influenced me.

Some children’s book makers I’m thinking about/studying/loving this week are:

Chris Raschka – I’m in awe over his ability to paint very gesturally and loose but also so clearly communicate emotion. His work reminds me of the ideas behind Japanese brush painting – allowing the mind to be free to let the body create.

Beatrice  Alemagna – Her work is playful and relaxed but it’s also very, very smart. I’m crazy about all the layers and textures in her illustrations.

Christian Robinson – I adore everything he does and I cannot really figure out why. I could say it’s the combination of his lovely sense of color and his great design and his beautiful hand-painted shapes – but I feel like that’s oversimplifying it.

Kate DiCamillo – I love her books so much. I’ve been trying to reread them and dissect how they work, but I always just get caught up in the story and forget to think about the craft of it.


TPBL: You have a real economy of visuals. For example, you show us time passing on one spread in this sort of four-celled way and the searching scene is also very interestingly laid out. How does that kind of thing come about?  Are you at all influenced by comic books?

KB: I do love some comic books and graphics novels but I’m kind of an amateur fan. I love Calvin and Hobbes and Saga, for example, but there are SO many I’m not familiar with. I have read Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics, and learned a ton from it. I would recommend it to anyone who’s creating stories with words and pictures. (Also, the Uri Shulevitz book, Writing With Pictures, taught me a ton about telling a story visually.)

So, to answer your question, yes, perhaps there is a comic book influence, but it wasn’t exactly intentional. I think those pages came about partially because of the constraint of having only 32 pages to work with. It was important to find ways to show passage of time that didn’t take up a lot of pages. Also, it was about pacing the story. I wanted to make it build up at the right speed and having those scenes compacted like they are made the story move at the pace I thought it should.


TPBL: What’s next for you?

SummerNickTaughtKBI illustrated a picture book called The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, by Curtis Manley, which is coming out in July from Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster. It was really fun and different to illustrate someone else’s words and it’s a terrific story. A boy tries to teach his cats to read but soon learns one cat is what you might call a “reluctant reader.” A book about discovering the joy of reading – what could be better?!

And I’m working right now on illustrations for a very unique and delightful story called My Little Half Moon, about a child who has a friendship with the moon. It’ll come out next year from Putnam Books and written by Doulgas Jennerich.

And as I mentioned, I’m also working on writing my next book. I’m still searching for the answers to a lot of questions about it so I’m not ready to share anything yet. But I’m excited about it – it will be great to put into practice all the new things I learned from working on my first three books.

Thanks again for having me!


Big thanks to Kate Berube for talking to me and for those images! It was so lovely of her stop by and talk about her wonderful book.