The first picture book I saw with a black child on the cover was Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. I didn’t see it as a kid during library storytime or in a classroom at school. It came across my desk at work. I was a writer in my 20s.
I looked at the sweet-faced girl on the cover with ballies and barrettes and smiled as I thought about my nieces, my cousins and myself at that age. Then, I opened the book and was blown away by the power of the story. A child’s quest to discover what people in her neighborhood consider beautiful turns into a journey of self-empowerment. The girl transforms her surroundings and the beauty inside her heart radiates for all to see.
As soon as I finished reading Something Beautiful, I saw picture books in a new way. They were moving, evocative, full of heart. They could change someone’s life by showing them the power they hold inside. As a Black woman reading a picture book about a Black girl for the first time, I knew I had add my voice.
A picture book can take children who are unsung in literature and center their stories so they’re heard and seen. Something Beautiful is my example of a perfect picture book. It’s lyrical, begs to be read again and again, has layers of meaning, outstanding illustrations and lingers in your mind long after you’ve closed the book. Picture books are important because they speak to something deep inside. They move, affirm, inspire and heal. They give us back to ourselves.
Traditionally, the age range advertised for picture books is 4-8. But sticking to that guideline means missing out on books that have lots to offer everyone. That’s why I love the term “everybody books.” That’s truly what picture books are to me.
Want to learn about important people and events that are too often overlooked? Check out nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. You’ll be amazed at the engaging stories and depth of research. Want to explore friend and family relationships, tackle tough subjects with children or show blooming understanding between generations? Got you there too. Want to laugh, cry, feel your heart being warmed or be chilled to the bone? Covered.
The next time, you’re looking for a good book to share with kids of any age or to read yourself, give yourself a treat and pick up a picture book.
Here’s the list of picture book nominees for the 2021 North Carolina Children’s Book Award to get you started: http://nccba.blogspot.com/2020/07/2021-picture-book-and-junior-book.html. I’m honored that my book, Going Down Home with Daddy, is included.