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What is the Value of Children's Picture Books?

It would be hard to quantify the value of children's books in a child's life, however I think we would all agree that stories do play a significant role in the development and growth in children. The characters they get to know in the books they read become like friends. These stories carry with them useful information and alert them to the fact that acquiring good reading skills leads to success in their future.

Besides this, there are other obvious benefits that stories play in a child's life. Every mother knows the aid of a bedtime storybook when it comes to putting her child to bed. Stories also contain feelings that can help a child understand their own feelings in a way that lets them know they are not alone. Helping a child settle down for a little quiet time is greatly enhanced by a sweet storybook being read to that child.

Teachers and educators of all kinds have found that children's books help a child in the area of language skills by introducing new words and ideas. Concepts such as size, shape, space and colors, up and down, etc. are all found in these books and presented to children in delightful ways.

Now, specifically about children's picture books. I'm sure that there has been a great debate over the years, perhaps a silent one, as to which is more important in children's picture books - the words or the illustrations? Fortunately for me, I do both.

I have loved these kinds of books ever since I was a child. The entertaining characters and vibrant colors tell a tale of their own, while the words give meaning and direction to a story. The story is usually considered the wordy part of any book with the images being the decoration. I have found them equally important, but of course, I started out as an artist so the illustrations came naturally when I began creating children's picture books. In fact, I have always seen a preview of a story in my mind as if it were a little film, with the characters dancing through the yarn. This may be due to the fact that I had, long ago, worked in film, both educational and entertainment. Storyboards were the norm.

Children's picture books, combining words and text, are a part of every young person's life. They shape thoughts, values, and offer life lessons. They allow children to look into the culture and experiences of others that are different from their own. They can see how others live and where they live, both visually and in words. Children can see that others may even look different from themselves. Colors enhance these books and give a tone that may be unfamiliar to the young reader, just as familiar colors give a familiar tone.

When I was a young girl in the 1940's there were very few picture books. I read somewhere that in 1940 there were only 984 books for children published. In 2015 it appears that over 100,000 were published that year. Google states that there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 children's books published every year in the U.S. alone. And surprisingly, they sell less than 250 copies each. This is probably due to the fact that many are now self-published and therefore do not have the promotional clout behind them as those coming out of traditional publishing houses. Many of these self-published books also lack the polish and editorial help to hone them and correct errors. Still with this vast number of books offered, and offered free or at a very modest price, children and their parents have a great wealth of books to pick from.

Here are some of the most famous and pivotal children's picture book authors and their books in the history of children's literature. I'm sure you are familiar with many of them.


The creation of the fables called "Aesop's Fables" was credited to a slave and storyteller who is believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620-564 BC. They were originally part of an oral tradition as the tales were passed from one to another and eventually became the earliest books offered in a variety of languages. Slang was included as the fables were told and retold. The fables were added to and enhanced by several other traditions (French couplets, Hebrew rhymed prose, German verse, Middle English rhyme) as they traveled through Europe, Asia, and America. They were originally directed towards adults to spread religious, political, and social themes. They became ethical guides, not unlike children's books today.

These stories were short and often included talking animals. Titles were given to the tales later, such as The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Fox and the Crow, The Lion and the Mouse, and more.

The first printed version of Aesop's Fables was in English, published in 1484 by William Caxton. Many versions followed with Olivia and Robert temple's well-known Penguin edition titled The Complete Fables by Aesop being published in 1988. In 2002 a translation by Laura Gibbs was published under the name Aesop's Fables by Oxford World's Classics. This book listed 359 fables all from Greek and Latin sources.

It appears that the philosopher John Locke was the first to direct these fables to children in his work Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693). In his opinion, the fables were, "…apt to delight and entertain a child… yet afford useful reflection to a grown man… If… Aesop has pictures with it, it will entertain him much better, and encourage him to read when it carries the increase of knowledge with it. For such visible objects children hear talked of in vain, and without any satisfaction, whilst they have no ideas of them; those ideas being not to be had from sounds, but from the things themselves, or their pictures." In this statement, Locke affirms the importance of the visual aspect of children's picture books.

In the early 19tth century, authors began writing verse, especially for children and included fables in their own works. One of the most popular writers of nonsense verse was Richard Scrafton Sharpe who lived in the late 1800's.

Sharpe was considered the originator of the limerick and the limerick, at some point, was cleverly added to the fables.

Various editions of the fables were published through the years. There were also a variety of illustrating styles used in these publications. Not surprisingly, the illustrations from Croxwell's version became an inspiration for many artifacts targeting children - tableware, alphabet plates, statues, wall hangings, tiles for nursery fireplaces, etc. We can see the continuation of this today in all of the Disney products that have been generated from the classic stories the Disney Company has produced in books, films, and television shows.

The number of fables attributed to Aesop is too long to count and there are almost as many fables that have been wrongly attributed to that same source.Either way, children the world over have enjoyed these stories and their charming illustrations for eons.

Hans Christian Anderson

Hans Christian Anderson was a Danish author born in 1805. He was a prolific writer of novels, travelogues, plays, and poems, but he is best known for his fairy tales. These fairy tales have been translated into 125 languages. The most famous of these are The Emperor's New Clothes,The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, and The Ugly Duckling. Many of these have been converted into animated and live films, plays, and have even inspired ballets.

Anderson's early life was a bitter and difficult one in which he had little support from his family. He struggled on his own as a young lad until he landed in the Royal Danish Theatre as a singer. When his voice changed, a colleague at the theater told him that he considered him to be a "poet." Hans took this suggestion seriously and began to write.

By 1829, Anderson enjoyed some success with his writing and the king even gave him a small travelling grant to travel through Europe. His travels took him through Switzerland and Italy, which inspired his first novel The Improvisatore.

When he started writing fairy tales, they were mostly reworked stories that he had heard as a child. But then in 1935 he published the first two installments of his Fairy Tales. The collection contains nine tales, including The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina,The Tinderbox, The Little mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes. The tales were not a huge success when they were first published.

It was not until 1945, over 100 years after his death, that a breakthrough came with four translations of his fairy tales and a second volume,Wonderful Stories for Children, was published. A London journal The Athenaeum, said of this second volume, "This is a book full of life and fancy; a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand…"

Anderson's personal life was limited to loving from a distance, never marrying. He had a close and appreciative relationship with Charles Dickens, whom he truly loved as a writer. When he died in 1875, he had already consulted with a composer about the music for his funeral, saying, "Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps." The Danish government considered him a national treasure and throughout the world there are statues of Hans Christian Anderson commemorating his contribution to children's literature.

The Anderson fairy tales have been illustrated in many styles, including those by Disney. They are beloved in whatever form they are depicted because the text itself is so very picturesque. Imaginations take flight with the words alone in with these delightful tales.

A.A. Milne

Winnie-the-Pooh would never have existed without the imaginative genius of A.A. Milne. Milne was an English author, born in 1882, and was primarily known as a playwright until he released his little children's book about a "bear of very little brain." It changed his life.

Before venturing into writing, Milne had studied mathematics at Cambridge. His writings took him into unexpected adventures. During World War I, he was assigned to a writing detail that produced propaganda to bolster the war effort by writing about British heroism and German cruelty. Although a pacifist, he followed his orders.

After the war he continued to write novels, plays, and essays, although he never matched the success he achieved as the author of the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.

E.H. Shepard illustrated the Pooh books. Shepard was inspired by the landscapes of Ashdown Forest for many of the illustrations he created for these books. The real Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne, said, "Pooh's Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical."

In 1925 Pooh appeared for the first time in the London Evening News on Christmas Eve in a story called "The Wrong Sort of Bees."Winnie-the-Pooh was published the next year followed by The Houseat Pooh Corner in 1928.

Milne disliked being typecast as a children's writer, even though his children's books proved to be his greatest successes and generated considerable income for him. Shortly after his death, his wife sold the rights to the Pooh characters to Stephen Slesinger, whose widow in turn sold the rights to the Walt Disney Company, which made many cartoons using the characters, as well as Pooh-related merchandise. In 2008, a collection of original drawings featuring Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends sold for over $2,000,000 in an auction at Soeby's. In 2005, Winnie-the-Pooh generated $6 billion in revenue, only out done by the legendary Mickey Mouse.

One can easily see that the illustrations of characters in a book matter immensely to the success of a children's book. The ones from Winnie-the-Pooh are so very tender and gentle; it is not surprising that they have become iconic as lovable friends in the lives of children.

Beatrice Potter

Many of the earliest children's picture books published were those created by Beatrice Potter. Her sweet and delicate pen and ink drawings, colored with watercolors, have enchanted children for over 100 years.

In her days, it was a great risk for any publishing house to spend money for colored images in a book. Fortunately, they did in Miss Potter's books and reaped years of rewards. Miss Potter's books would not be the same without her lovely artwork. She wrote 30 books with 24 of them being children's tales. Her best-known books are those featuring animals, such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Like many authors and illustrators of children's literature, Beatrice Potter was greatly influenced by her early surroundings. She was raised in England in the country and she and her brother Bertram had numerous small animals as pets. They observed these animals closely and drew them endlessly. In their schoolroom in their home, Beatrice and her brother even kept a variety of small pets -- mice, rabbits, a hedgehog, and bats, along with collections of butterflies and other insects. Both children studied them all and spent long hours drawing them.It was Beatrice's ability to observe and describe these animals that led to her to being able to write and illustrate her beloved books with such insight.

It is revealed in the biographies of Beatrice Potter that her artistic and literary interests were greatly influenced by fairies, fairy tales, and fantasy. She grew up with and loved the stories such asAesop's Fables, Grimm's Fairy Tales,Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Owl and the Pussycat, and Alice in Wonderland, along with others.She studied book illustration from a young age and developed her own style, always preferring to feature her own pets - her mice, rabbits, kittens, and guinea pigs.

One of the most amazing things about Beatrice Potter is that, although she was typical of a woman of that time who had limited opportunities, she became an extremely wealthy, self-sufficient woman through the sale of her children's books. She took the proceeds from the sale of her books and a legacy from an aunt and purchased property in the hills of Lancashire, including a small village. Through the years she acquired more land and a variety of farms. Keenly interested in land preservation and conservation, sheleft her estate in a National Trust for the enjoyment of the citizens of her country.

Dr. Seuss

Not only can children's picture books warm the hearts of their readers, as demonstrated in the works of Miss Potter, they can teach.

The work of Dr. Seuss was designed for just that - to teach and encourage an interest in reading. He was born Theodore Seuss Geisel in the early 20 th century. He was an American author, political cartoonist, poet, and artist. Above all, he was known for his children's books -- the most popular children's books of all time, selling over 600 million copies which have been translated into 20 languages.

I first became acquainted with Dr. Seuss when I was just a young child. Horton Hatches the Egg enchanted me with its rhyme and wit, with its adorable characters that expressed the exasperation and joy that the story revealed. I loved it then and still do. He published over 60 books during his career, which lead to all sorts of adaptations - 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical, and four television series.

Geisel was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, attended high school there where he took art classes. He went on to Dartmouth, and then entered Lincoln College, Oxford where he earned a PhD in English literature. He met Helen Palmer there who encouraged him to give up becoming an English teacher in favor of pursuing drawing as a career.

He worked in a variety of areas using his artistic talents, illustrating for magazines, creating a series of cartoons for a number of magazines and newspapers - Life, liberty, and Vanity Fair. Through the Depression years, he supported himself and his wife by drawing advertising for General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, and many other companies. He also traveled extensively and felt that the traveling helped his creativity.

Creating children's picture books was a new adventure for Geisel.It started with his first book And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The book was rejected, it is rumored, by between 20 and 43 publishers. It was a chance encounter that led to its publication with Vanguard Press. He wrote four more books before he entered World War II. These were all in prose, atypical for him. Then in 1940 Horton Hatches the Egg was published, this time put into his familiar poetic style.

During the war period, Geisel turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years. Then after the war, he and his wife moved to La Jolla, California where he returned to writing and illustrating children's books. When Life magazine published a report of literacy among school children, it concluded that children were not learning to read because the books were boring.

The director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin, William Ellsworth Spaulding, compiled a list of 348 words that were felt to be important for first-graders to know. He had Geisel cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using just those words. Thus, The Cat in the Hat was born, and he only used 238 of those words. It was a challenge and Geisel was up to it. This book with its rhyming verse and imaginative drawing style achieved huge international success and it remains one of the most popular children's picture books today. TheCat in the Hat sold over 450,000 copies in 2009 andGreen Eggs and Ham sold nearly 550,000 copies and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish in 1960 sold over 400,000 copies. Geisel went on to write and illustrate many other best-selling children's books.

The artwork of Geisel used some shaded texture effects created from pencil drawings or watercolors. Later he moved to pen and ink with great facility, turning the characters, rounding the edges and never offering a straight line. He was an extremely accomplished artist, revealing emotion and motion with lines and gestures that expressed whatever he wanted of a character.

I know from experience the skill required to work in pen and ink. Geisel had years of work under his belt when he finally honed in on drawing the illustrations for his children's books. There is no children's picture book artist that compares to his genius - then and now.

Theodore Geisel was awarded many honors during his lifetime, including a special honorary doctorate from Dartmouth, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the professional children's librarians, and a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents." His honors also include two Academy Awards, two Emmy awards, and a Peabody award.

The books of Dr. Seuss are the greatest addition to the body of children's books that exists. He combined education and play in the most enchanting and beguiling way.

Margaret Wise Brown

One of the all-time most popular children's picture books is Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown. This book represented an example of a new kind of children's literature called the "here-and-now," when it was published in 1947.

Margaret Wise Brown was raised in Brooklyn, New York and attended a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland while her parents were living in India and then in Canterbury, Connecticut. Eventually, she attended school in Wellesley, Massachusetts and finally went to Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, where she graduated with a B.A. degree in English.

Following her graduation, Brown worked as a teacher and also studied art. It became a life-altering experience. While working at the Bank Street Experimental School in New York City, she started writing children's books. The school where she taught had a new approach in children's education and literature, emphasizing the real world - the "here and now."

Most children's literature in the 1930's was focused on moralizing fairytales and fables set in distant, imaginary lands. Educator Lucy Mitchell at the Bank Street Experimental School started a new focus in children's literature, paying attention to modern, urban settings and stories. These were stories about everyday life and daily routines, simple observations of things in every child's life.

Those working at Bank Street were encouraged to be aware of semantics and language patterns used by young children, and to keep notes on this. Brown once wrote a former college professor, "They tell me stories and I write them down. Amazing." Simple, real, and direct, just the way Brown developed her books.

Brown became involved with Mitchell's crusade and assisted her in re-working a textbook, The Here and Now Story Book, dedicated to experimental children's literature. It appears to be one of the great influences of Brown's own writings, including Goodnight Moon. One of Mitchell's discoveries in children's speech patterns was that "communication is not the earliest impulse that lead to the use of language." She determined that young children were more interested in the "rhythm, sound quality and patterns of sound." Brown obviously took notice of this fact and her knack for rhythmic language can be observed in her many books, mostly notably Goodnight Moon.

Prior to Goodnight Moon, Brown was already a successful writer, churning out many books that became a great influence on children's literature all over the world. In the dozens of books she wrote, many were written under pen names to avoid flooding the market with her "Brown" releases.

She wrote quickly and could finish a rough draft in 20 minutes, then would take two years polishing it. Much time was spent linking Brown with the right illustrators for her projects. Her collaborator on Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, Clement Hurd, created strong, somewhat abstract images for Goodnight Moon. It took him three attempts before both were satisfied. The bold, intense, almost masculine colors in this book blend perfectly with the simple words of Brown. It works and has done so for decades.

Oddly, because the New York Public Library's head librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, was opposed to this new approach to children's literature, this book was considered "an unbearably sentimental piece of work" and banned from the library until 1973, years after it was first published. Other reviewers were mixed, but overall, more complimentary.

In its first year of publication, the book sold more than 6,000 copies. Each year after that, the sales rose to 1,500 copies a year, until a surge occurred in the 1950's with sales of 4,000 then up to 20,000 a year by 1970. By 2000, the total sales of this book were over 11 million copies. It was now considered a classic!

Like Seuss, Brown never had children. Unlike Seuss, who loved children, Brown admitted to an interviewer, "Well, I don't especially like children, either. At least not as a group. I won't let anybody get away with anything just because he is little."

The legacy of that book has been tremendous. It has inspired countless children's picture book authors and illustrators. It has soothed millions of children to sleep at night over the years with its beautiful, rhythmical verse.

By the time of her death in 2000, Brown had authored over 100 books and had left 70 unfinished manuscripts.

Eric Carle

Eric Carle is one of the best known and best loved children's picture book illustrator and writer.

Although born in in U.S., Carle was raised in his mother's homeland, Germany. He was educated and graduated from the art school in Stuttgart, the State Academy of Fine Art. During World War II, he and his family suffered great hardships.

After the war, Carle returned to the U.S. and landed a job as a graphics designer in the promotion department of The New York Times. While at The Times, his talent was recognized by an educator and author, Bill Martin, Jr. Martin asked Carle to collaborate on a picture book. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You see?was published in 1967 by Henry Holt & Co and became a best-seller. That started Carle on his true career of writing and illustrating his own children's books. 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo and The very Hungry Caterpillar were some of the first.

Eric Carle's art is immediately identifiable - created from hand-painted papers, made into collages from which shapes are cut. The colors are bright and the brushwork is lively, done with a free hand.It is his particular illustrative "signature."

He uses nature, including animals as his themes and composes masterpieces with these simple shapes of brushed paint on paper. Animals of all kinds walk across his pages - big, impressive animals that are easily recognizable, but also imaginative with their hand-painted textures.

It has always been Carle's attempt to make his books not only entertaining, which they most certainly are, but also offer some useful information to young readers about the world around them. He hopes to inspire intellectual inquisitiveness in those who read his books. He believes that children are naturally eager to learn and basically creative.

After tremendous success with his books, Carle created The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a museum devoted to the art of children's books. It is located in Amherst, next to Hampshire College and is part of the Hampshire College Cultural Village. It opened in 2002 and has welcomed nearly a half million visitors since that opening.

Carle has received many honors during his lifetime, including honorary degrees from Williams College, Smith College, Appalachian State University and Bates College. He has also received many prestigious book awards for his children's literature. This includes the Japan Picture Book Award, the Regina Medal, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators for his beautiful collages. He was also given the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the professional children's librarians.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was voted the number two children's picture book behind the book Where the Wild things Are.

Carle's books are picture dominate, as are many children's books. In this way, they appeal to the very young in the children's picture book category. Other authors of children's books tend to emphasize the text. The stories in Carle's books are, in most cases, absolutely dependent upon the images he creates. They are a treat to the eyes of both children and adults.

At this time, there are over 40 of the Eric Carle's books in print.

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak is one of the most popular American children's book writers and illustrators in the category of children's literature. His book Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963, is still one of the best-selling children's picture books of all time.

Although Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, his childhood was greatly affected by the deaths of extended family members in Poland during the Holocaust. As a child he developed health problems and was forced to remain in bed for long periods of time. He used this as an opportunity to read and at a young age made a decision to become an illustrator. He was greatly influenced by Walt Disney's film Fantasia when he was 12.

In 1947 his first illustrations were published in a simple textbook. From then on he was off - illustrating books by other authors before writing his own stories. His dark, moody illustrations were a contrast to the usual happy and light characters typical of children's books at that time. They were in a sense like real children, not as some depict, idealized children.

After the first publishing ofWhere the Wild Things Are, Sendak gained international fame. Many parents, particularly mothers, were concerned, however, with the grotesque depictions of the characters in the book. Children loved it!

Once voted as the author of the number one children's book by readers in a library survey, one of the readers proclaimed him as ushering in a new age of picture books. That particular book, the participant observed, "rises above the rest in part because it is subversive."

One of his books, In the Night Kitchen, was eventually placed on the "100 Most Frequently Banned Books of 1990-1999." Nothing stopped Sendak. He continued to illustrate his books and those of others as well as take on design challenges such as designing sets for operas and ballets. He even created a children's television program Seven Little Monsters.

Sendak had influences from many directions for his work. There were Biblical tales and tales from the Torah. He has been quoted as saying, "My gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart."

In his obituary in the New York Times,Sendakwas called "the most important children's book artist of the 20th century."

The list of awards for Sendak is long - from the Caldecott Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the National Medal of Arts, and Sendak was even inducted into the New York Hall of Fame in 2013.


As one can see from these few examples, there are illustrators and writers of all kinds for children's books. Some emphasize the art and other, the words. Then, there are those like Seuss and Potter whose work is, in my mind, a perfect balance of the two.

So many things can be taught to children without being overt. A little message, a subtle lesson can be slipped into a book with characters that kids can relate to and enjoy.

Here is a list of important values every parent would want to develop in his or her child and a short list of modern children's picture books that carry these messages. You might find them useful in planting the seeds of those particular values in the child or children in your life. I will also include several of my own books that cover the same subjects. You might just like them as well.


How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Fine

Kevin and His Magic Turtle by Sally Huss


Little Bird by GermanoZullo

Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson

The Golden Rule by Illene Cooper and Gabi Swiatowska

The Very Helpful Monsters by Sally Huss


Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Buss by Mo Williams

Lady Lulpin's Book of Etiquette by Babette Cole

The Mermaid Tea Party by Sally Huss

Diversity, Inclusiveness, Tolerance

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

Whomever You Are by Mem Fox

The Color of Us by Karen Katz

Cinnamon Girl by Sally Huss


I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow

I'm Gonna Like Me by Jamie Lee Curtis

Giraffes Can't Dance by Gilles Andreae

Being Happy, Being Me by Sally Huss


Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Little One Step by Simon James

Flight School by Lita Judge

How the Cow Jumped Over the Moon by Sally Huss

Emotional Awareness

Today I feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm by LeVar Burton

Those Shoes by MaribethBoelts

The Princess in My Teacup by Sally Huss


The Quilt Maker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau

Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern

God Gave Us Thankful Hearts by Lisa TawnBergren

One Green Omelet, Please! by Sally Huss

The positive effect of children's picture books on a child and on that child's life cannot be measured, but we all know it is there. These heart-felt creations offer many diverse points of view on many subjects,as well as display an amazing variety of fascinating artwork to enhance the texts and dance along with the stories. Ideas can be expressed and experiences shared through children's books, letting every child learn about the world around them and even the world within them. May every child have the opportunity to enjoy a boatload full of these wonderful books and perhaps write some of their own.