Picture books can engage and educate children

By Manhattan Public Library

Steven Kellogg is a children’s book author and illustrator who has touched the lives of most of us in one way or another. You may recall reading aloud his fun picture books about the big white dog Pinkerton in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or “The Day Jimmy’s Boa ate the Wash” and other strange tales like “The Island of Skog” and “The Mysterious Tadpole.”

He retold tales of larger than life characters like Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed and illustrated books that became classics in children’s literature—“Is Your Mama a Llama” and How Much is a Million.  I’ve admired his intricate artwork for years. I did not know that for most of those years, he was working and raising his family in a quiet Connecticut neighborhood called Sandy Hook.

With the publication of his newest book, “Snowflakes Fall,” a collaboration with Patricia MacLachlan (author of “Sarah, Plain and Tall”), Kellogg [MS1]pays tribute to the lost lives of children and adults in the tragic school shooting of Dec. 14, 2012.

A remarkable and wonderful aspect of their book is that it is filled with joy. MacLachlan’s poem flows lightly and delicately as snow falling from a clear sky, and the children in the pictures are grinning with delight as they make tracks, go sledding, and jump in the snow drifts.  This beautiful winter picture book will once again touch the lives of so many readers.

It is a celebration of snow and of childhood excitement about the wonders of our world. Perhaps it can also help heal hearts as the snow angels left by the children lift off the last page and fly into the snowy sky. 

KADIR NELSON’S book “Nelson Mandela” is another extraordinary picture book from 2013, which shares Mandela’s history and legacy with a new generation.  The biographical information is extremely brief, but significant moments in Mandela’s childhood and adult life are marked with poignant and inspring illustrations, from the opening page showing silhouetted children playing on a grassy hill to the final portrait of Mandela boldly addressing his people after being elected president of South Africa.

The most recent issue of The New Yorker features a painting of Mandela by Kadir Nelson, as well as pictures from the book which came out just 11 months before Mandela’s death.


AARON BECKER’S new wordless picture book “Journey” has received much attention for its amazing sketches that manage to convey a whole story and range of emotions without using language.

A bored child leaves her house with a red crayon which opens a door to a new, colorful world.  Like Harold with his purple crayon from many years ago, the child is able to draw the items she needs to transport her and save her – a boat, a hot-air balloon, and even a magic carpet. Unlike Harold, she is not trying to find her way back home, but instead saves a beautiful purple bird from capture which, in turn, opens another door.


LAST SATURDAY, the library hosted a “Mock Caldecott” discussion led by the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) and the KSU English Department.  More than 30 picture books from 2013 were considered by the group, and “Journey” was voted the winner.

With allusions to Crockett Johnson (“Harold and the Purple Crown”), Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) and David Wiesner (“Tuesday” and “Art & Max”), it still stands on its own as a singularly beautiful and fantastical story.  One person noted that the art looked like “something you could actually fall into and explore.” “Journey” will engage children’s imaginations and let them feel their own power to take action and do the right thing.

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