An honest take on life and parenthood

8 Picture Book Treasures from SCBWI

on June 2, 2017

I absolutely adore picture books. As a mom and an aspiring picture book author, I study them and collect them and read them over and over. Each book is a work of art, a dance of storytelling, beautiful writing, and colorful illustrations, designed to entertain both children and adults.

This past April, I attended the spring conference of the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Springfield, Massachusetts. This marvelous organization has chapters all over the country and all over the world, and hosts regular conferences to provide support, education, and encouragement to those of us who want to create books for children.

At the conference, I purchased a selection of wonderful picture books by SCBWI writers and artists, and brought them home to enjoy with my Pooh. Here, I share them with you. If you are in the market for some great picture books, here is a sampling of my haul:


Lucy’s Lovey, by Betsy Devany and illustrated by Christopher Denise, made me laugh so hard that I was crying by page 4. Lucy is a little girl who has 17 baby dolls, but she loves Smelly Baby the best of all. Betsy understands the unreasonable passion of a small child for her lovey, and writes a delightful picture book with intense emotional highs and lows, along with fabulous moments of laugh out loud fun. My daughter has her own lovey, a tattered flannel blanket, so this book resonated with me to my very core.


Pappa Gatto, written and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, is an Italian fairy tale about a cat who is looking for a nanny for his motherless kittens. Ruth breathes new life into fairy tales every time she decides to retell them. Although I had never heard of this particular fairy tale before, I found it very satisfying. Ruth’s illustrations are rich with color and detail, and often feature opulent Renaissance or French provincial clothing and scenery. Fairy tales are not considered desirable by the publishing industry right now, but as long as Ruth is writing and illustrating them, I will be buying them. Ruth smiled when I told her about my crazy cat lady daughter, and graciously signed the book for her.


Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and illustrated by John Schoenherr, is a timeless classic about a child who goes owling with her father on a cold winter’s night. The quiet poetry of this exquisite book never loses its music. At the conference, Jane Yolen illustrated the importance of persistence with this book. After countless rejections, a small publisher accepted the manuscript, anticipating a short run.  To everyone’s great surprise, it went on to win the Caldecott Medal and has been in print continuously for 30 years. Jane Yolen herself, the grande dame of children’s literature and mentor to countless creatives, signed this book for my daughter.


A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is the biography of Horace Pippin, a self-taught African-American artist who settled in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. This inspirational, beautifully written story follows Horace from his time as a child who loved to draw, to his war injury in WWI that left him unable to draw or paint for a long time, and finally, his return to painting and eventual discovery by N.C. Wyeth as a premier American artist. As a native of the Philadelphia area and an artist myself, I enjoyed this reminder of the human spirit’s ability to fight through life’s clutter and challenges to allow a creative soul to blossom.


Will’s Words – How Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley, is a wonderful introduction to Shakespeare for kids. As a former English major, I like geeking out with my daughter on great literature, so I was delighted to find this picture book. The book covers common modern expressions that can be traced to the Bard, and each spread is accompanied by lively illustrations and explanations of life in Elizabethan England. My daughter found it fascinating and fun, and of course, I was thrilled to have an easy and engaging way to talk about Shakespeare with her.


The House that Jane Built – A story about Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Kathryn Brown is another moving biography, this time about a social justice warrior. Jane Addams was born into a privileged family, and received an excellent education, although it was not the custom for girls at that time. From an early age, she noticed injustice and wished to correct it. She went on to found Hull House, which served the poor and homeless and provided job training, education, and social services to help people overcome poverty. This wonderful story is inspiring without being preachy, and serves to open good conversations with your little one about making the world a better place.


Madame Martine, written and illustrated by Sara Brannen, is about an unlikely friendship between an old woman and a lively stray dog. The story is set in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower serving to anchor the story (both literally and figuratively). Exquisite watercolors evoke the beauty of Paris, and the book has a sweet, funny charm all its own, just like the slightly stubborn old woman who just wants to be loved.


Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, is the magical story of a little Imani, a Masaii girl in Kenya. Other kids tease her for being the smallest girl in the tribe, but she has big dreams: she plans to meet the Moon Goddess. This book weaves in East African folklore and images, and features loving exchanges between Imani and her mother.  The Moon Goddess, Olapa, is as ethereal and gracious as you imagine her to be, and Imani emerges as the ultimate hero. This book caught my attention, since I visited Kenya and Tanzania many years ago and met the Masaii people, who captivated me with their regal bearing and timeless nomadic ways. Every time I pull out this book, my daughter smiles and can’t wait to snuggle in for a read. Warm and enchanting, it is a perfect book to share with your favorite little girl.

If you read or have read any of these, I would love to know what you think of them. Happy reading!

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