Tag Archives: picture books
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!
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!
It’s a magical time of year, so here are 13 picture books that capture a variety of mysterious or marvelous stories, tricks, happenings, places, creatures—magic that only picture books can conjure.
Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land by Mirelle Ortega (2022).
This picture book is a beautiful account of a place and the people who live there, inspired by the author-illustrator’s home in Veracruz, Mexico. It infuses Mirelle Ortega’s heart and art and story with the magic that’s uniquely home.
“I learned that magic isn’t good or bad, it just is. Sometimes it gives. Sometimes it takes. Sometimes it blossoms. Sometimes it wilts.”
Chirri & Chirra In the Night by Kaya Doi (translated from the Japanese by David Boyd) (November 2022).
I confess I haven’t read this one yet (out next month!), but I adore the entire series. This duo always has magical nature-themed adventures on the their bikes, but this one seems fitting for our post as it’s set in the glow of the moon at night! Every title with these two stars is an absolute dream.
A delight of a rabbit-and-a-hat picture book—with each magic word the main character says, what animal will emerge with Hattie’s magic? It’s your guess!
Looking for a Jumbie written by Tracey Baptiste, illustrated by Amber Ren (2021).
Naya’s nighttime adventure-quest is filled with a wonderful cast of Caribbean folklore characters our fearless main character meets along the way in this luminously illustrated picture book with a spirit of spookiness and story.
Little Witch Hazel: A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl (2021).
Four seasonal stories with a little witch plus imaginary creatures and community galore. It’ll make you want to take a walk in the woods and search for sprites—or curl up with some tea and berries for a magical daydream.
Strum & Drum: A Merry Little Quest by Jashar Awan (2022).
These two darling musicians embark on a clever escapade in this winter holiday picture book that has a wonderfully inventive ending that will make you want to read and strum and drum again and again.
Berry Magic written by Teri Sloat and Betty Huffmon, illustrated by Teri Sloat (2004).
Brought to picture book form from “a very short story told out loud to Yup’ik children,” Anana enlists magical help to create tasty berries for a fall festival’s treats.
Hocus Pocus Practice Focus: The Making of a Magician written by Amy Kimlat, illustrated by Srinidhi Srinivasan (October 2022).
A super sweet story about what it takes to learn to be a magician (or become a wizard-in-training at any craft) with help from a dual-role mentor the main character admires. Written by a former child magician and with a foreword by a famous one (David Copperfield!).
First Snow by Bomi Park (2016).
A gentle, captivating middle-of-the-night-quiet book about a kid who wakes up in wonder, follows snowfall, and finds absolute magic (giant snowballs, more children!) waiting in the woods.
This Magical Musical Night words by Rhonda Gowler Greene, pictures by James Rey Sanchez (2021).
An introduction to the instruments of an orchestra that sways and rhymes and dances in all kinds of starry, dazzling settings.
This picture book is simply wow with bold, interactive art, numbers, colors, and pure magic.
The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by (2021).
An enchanting, tremendously inventively-told fairy tale with sibling love at its center.
The Lost Library by Jess McGeachin (2020).
A story-fond adventure with friendship, a librarian, and a book dragon—where books save the day of course.
For This Picture Book Life’s 9th anniversary, I’m giving away two bundles of new, some summery and some fall-feeling, picture books with this theme: people and places. Summer adventures, special relatives, trips, swimming, biographies, first days of school, belonging, identity, siblings, pizza, and more!
The giveaway for Bundle One will be right here! (Rafflecopter below.)
The one for Bundle Two will be on Instagram—here instead!
The First Bundle:
Climb on! Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, written by Baptiste Paul (2022).
Ready for the Spotlight! by Jaime Kim (2022).
Clementine and the Lion by Zoey Abbott (2022).
I’ll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Sara Palacios (2022).
Black Girl Rising by Brynne Barnes, illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (2022).
Pizza: A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli (2022).
The Fossil Whisperer by Helaine Becker and Sandra Dumais (2022).
This is a School words by John Schu, illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison (2022).
The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear & Gracey Zhang (2021).
My Town Mi Pueblo by Nicholas Solis, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (2022).
A Mermaid Girl by Sana Rafi, illustrated by Olivia Aserr (2022).
The Queen of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton (2022).
Cycle City by Alison Farrell (2018).
Everything in Its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging by Pauline David-Sax, illustrated by Charnel Pinkney Barlow (2022).
Strong written by Rob Kearney & Eric Rosewood, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani (2022).
One Boy Watching by Grant Snider (2022).
Okay, enter to win below for the first bundle or on IG for the second! And many thanks for following along with This Picture Book Life.
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.
Off-Limits by Helen Yoon (2021).
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!
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (2016).
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.”
Lines by Suzy Lee (2017).
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.
WallPaper by Thao Lam (2019).
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!
Little People, Big Dreams: Louise Bourgeois written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara illustrated by Helena Pérez García (2020).
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.”
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois words by Amy Novensky pictures by Isabelle Arsenault (2016).
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.
Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu (2008).
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.
Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2021).
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.”
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken (2017).
Picked because this gorgeously illustrated book tells a poetic story of mistakes leading to magic, as they often do in the creative process.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (2014).
Picked because it captures getting frustrated and getting fed up on a project, part of creativity too. And how often a walk (or any break) is just the thing to see things anew.
Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall illustrated by Benji Davies (2016).
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!
Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare (2019).
Picked because this one is tons of fun with crayons and creativity as a conduit to friendship–on the MOON!
What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada illustrated by Mae Besom (2014).
Picked because it’s a magical yet relatable allegory for having and nurturing an idea: curious and strange and wonderful.
ABC of Feelings written and illustrated by Bonnie Lui (2020).
This picture book is, as the title suggests, an alphabet depicting 26 different feelings, from anxious to zany with delightful illustrations. It’s a useful compendium for kids to learn the names of specific emotions and to understand the breadth of theirs—and how that spectrum of feelings is totally okay, expected, important to name and know and explore.
In a few instances of Bonnie Lui’s book, the two sides of a spread serve as question and answer or are related in some way—and those are most effective and engaging. For example, kids who are SCARED on their own at a campout experience the feeling of being TRUSTING on the opposite side when they join a parent, snuggly in bed together.
My favorite spread is the pairing of WISHFUL and XENIAL, the second a word I didn’t know, because it tells a complete story that is unexpected, sweet, and magical.
Overall, ABC of Feelings shows kids that feelings come in all kinds and that they’re part of life—to be noticed, celebrated, expressed, and sometimes soothed.
Big thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy and images!
And ABC of Feelings is also a good jumping off point to explore more books and feelings with kids!
Here are 20 picture books that explore feelings of all kinds either directly or embedded in the story: longing, grief, disappointment, love, hurt, pride, sadness, loss, uncertainty, fear, worry, misery, hope, inspiration, happiness, curiosity, and joy. These titles (and others) may be useful for discussions with kids about how they’re feeling.
You might ask a child: “What is the character feeling? How do you know? Do you ever feel like that? What are you feeling today, right now? Would you like to draw your feeling? To write about it? To sing a song? To tell me how it feels or why it might be here? I will share my feelings too.”
In a recent Washington Post article by Lakshmi Gandhi, “Books Can Be An Entry to Talking About Sadness with Your Child,” the writer interviews Erin Entrada Kelly, Tracy Subisak (creator of Jenny Mei Is Sad from this list), and Christine Day about their children’s books and the difficult feelings they explore with authenticity and compassion.
Books, indeed, are conduits of connection to the internal lives of characters that reflect the internal lives of us all.
Here’s the list:
I Wish You Knew written by Jackie Azúa Kramer illustrated by Magdalena Mora (2021).
When I See Red by Britta Teckentrup (2021).
Jenny Mei Is Sad by Tracy Subisak (2021).
Wounded Falcons by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng (2021).
Saturday by Oge Mora (2019).
My Love for You Is Always written by Gillian Sze, illustrated by Michelle Lee (2021).
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelley Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (2020)
Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and David Litchfield (2020).
Bindu’s Bindi’s by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Parvati Pillai (2021).
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018).
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, art by Hatem Aly (2019).
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (2018).
Birdsong by Julie Flett (2019).
Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton (2020).
The Happiness of a Dog with a Ball in Its Mouth by Bruce Handy and Hyewon Yum (2021).
Boogie, Boogie, Y’all by C.G. Esperanza (2021).
I hope you’ll share some feelings-related books in the comments too! What is a picture book you know and love that explores emotions?