Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 27, 2009

Seven Favorite Books About Picture Books

Thanks, lovely Jama jamarattigan for passing on the kreativ blogger award!

Since Jama is such a lover of picture books – I, too, think they’re the heart of children’s literature, though other genres are wonderful, too – and because Becky beckylevine recently asked for recommendations of good books about picture books, I’m writing about seven favorites. American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to The Beast Within by Barbara Bader is a hefty tome with brilliant studies of and pictures from books that have stood the test of time. You may have read Bader’s articles in the Horn Book.

For views of people working in the field more currently, I couldn’t choose between two slender colorful books by Leonard S. Marcus, who is our go-to person for following the industry, and perhaps best known for his biography of Margaret Wise Brown and the collected letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which every children’s writer should read for its humor and insight. But I digress – there are so many books! Marcus’s Side by Side: Five Favorite Picture-Book Teams Go to Work emphasizes wonderful collaborators, and shows more picture books for older readers, perhaps because getting information right was part of the collaboration. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal is also filled with great nuggets from interviews and gorgeous illustrations. I always bring in this book when I teach to show Maurice Sendak’s dummy for Where the Wild Things Are, which was originally Where the Wild Horses Are, until Sendak conceded he wasn’t so great at drawing horses.

I blogged about Show and Tell by Dilys Evans (Chronicle) a while ago, and while it emphasizes art, you get a feel for ways great picture books combine words and pictures.

Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz, who won a Caldecott honor yesterday, puts forth more plainly the work behind a book. Bringing authors and illustrators together is Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication: Two Perspectives by Berthe Amoss and Eric Suben (Writer’s Digest Book) is one I’ve had around for a long time and may be dated in some ways, but not in the essentials. It’s easy to read and practical, including exercises and checklists, but also inspiring anecdotes.

Finally, Inside Picture Books by Ellen Handler Spitz, published by Yale University, offers an overview and analysis of classics. I love this book, which is the only one listed that’s entirely writing. The voice is lovely and honest and pulls you right in. I didn’t always agree with Spitz’s conclusions, but I loved following her there, and it’s particularly good on what makes a book compelling to some of the youngest picture book readers, those who perch on laps.



  1. Nice collection of book recommendations!

  2. Whee!!!! Thank you so much for the list. I need to clean off another shelf on my bookcase! Wait…or add more cases!

  3. Thanks for the list!

  4. Thanks! Always nice to have an excuse to sit in front of my bookshelf and browse (like I need an excuse).

  5. I’m not sure I want to know how many bookcases you have! But that’s a good thing!

  6. Thanks, Linda! I was talking to Andy at the Carle museum bookshop yesterday, and he mentioned that we’re in for another bout of babies in the country — and more picture books, we hope!

  7. Oh, what a delicious list, Jeannine! I haven’t seen the Spitz or the Evans book yet — think I’ll use some of my Christmas gift card money to obtain them :)! Thanks so much!!

  8. Oh, delicious? I loved Spitz’s writing — and when I went to import the picture of the book from barnes and noble com, I saw that she has a newer book remaindered (sadly) about childhood and imagination, and I ordered that. Maybe I’ll report soon — though the pile is big. She gets such a feel for childhood. And while Evan’s books is focused on illustration, there’s a strong sense of story — and great anecdotes as she knows many if not all of the illustrators. Great use of a Christmas gift card!

  9. So helpful! Thank you, Jeannine.
    I have never written a picture book, but now that I spend lots of time reading them to my daughter (one of the lap-perching set) I find myself thinking much more about how they work (or don’t) and why.

  10. I just put the first two on reserve–thanks! I think I’ve read the Marcus one already, but it’s been a few years. His books are always so revealing. My library doesn’t have the third one…will have to put it on ILL. Thanks for the recommendations!

  11. I envy your full lap! My daughter used to get annoyed when I’d occasionally flip back to check the publisher. But I don’t keep the absence of a listener from letting me enjoy reading those slim books from time to time.
    You might most like Spitz’s book, which reflects on the themes you may be seeing.

  12. I hope you get inspired! I’m not writing picture books these days, but reading them and about them, well, wow, it’s a genre I love!

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