Art, Color, Creativity, and Children's Picture Books

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”—Pablo Picasso

Spring is almost here! It’s time to capture that creative spirit through art and color! This month’s column features picture books that do just that! It was difficult to make these choices from the vast creative selections available for children, so there are a few extra titles in the accompanying activity ideas. To begin, a couple of special related events taking place include:

  • March is Youth Art Month (YAM) with the Council for Art Education partnering with the National Art Education Association (NAEA) for this celebration of young people and art. For more information, see the related news announcement ( which contains links for a YAM Informational Booklet and YAM List of Ideas.
  • And, a special note in relation to art, color, and creativity is the 2012-2013 celebration of the Caldecott Medal 75th Anniversary by the Association for Library Service to Children. Check out the special webpage ( This spring is a terrific time to highlight these books in the library and classroom. For a complete list, go to:


Brennan-Nelson, Denise, and Rosemarie Brennan. Willow. Illus. by Cyd Moore. Sleeping Bear Press, 2011.

A creative little girl named Willow ends up inspiring an unimaginative art teacher through the power of imagination.

▶An extensive 25-page activity guide to accompany this book can be found at the illustrator’s homepage ( The guide includes writing, science, math, and art activities, as well as a crossword puzzle and word search.

Johnson, Crockett. Harold and the Purple Crayon. Harper, 1955.

Harold goes for a walk in the moonlight that becomes more eventful when he uses a very large purple crayon to create an imaginary world.

▶From the publisher HarperCollins, a printable activity sheet encourages children to help Harold draw a new picture ( and another page encourages children to draw what happens next for Harold (

▶A fun and purple art activity can be found at:

▶Extensive background information for a philosophical discussion of Harold and the Purple Crayon can be found at the “Teaching Children Philosophy” page ( The page also includes about twenty questions for help in framing the discussion.

▶A general list of discussion questions for Harold can be found at:

Litwin, Eric. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Illus. by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2010.

When Pete the Cat walks down the street in his white shoes, they change colors as he steps in strawberries, blueberries, and other surprising things—but, Pete just keeps walking!

▶Print out a color recognition worksheet featuring Pete’s tennis shoes (

▶HarperCollins features a page on Pete the Cat that includes activity downloads, video, and song audio ( You can even print out the game to play “Pin the Shoe on Pete.”

▶A wide variety of activities including math, art, and language arts are linked on the MakeLearningFun page (

McDonnell, Patrick. Art. Little Brown, 2006.

A young boy named Art enthusiastically tries all kinds of art techniques, mediums, and colors. This creative book incorporates a rhyming text and much fun with the play on the word “art.”

▶Watch a brief video of Art read by Patrick McDonnell ( The page also includes more information about the story.

▶Find a reproducible word scramble at:

▶Learn more about Patrick McDonnell and his other creative children’s books ( McDonnell is the author and illustrator of the 2012 Caldecott Honor title, Me…Jane (Little, Brown, 2011), which shares the story of young Jane Goodall.

Prévert, Jacques. How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird. Illus. by Mordicai Gertstein. Roaring Brook Press, 2007.

Gerstein’s translation of a 1949 poem by French surrealist Jacques Prévert is illustrated with a child waking up to paint an open bird cage which he takes outside. And, then a bird comes to sing.

▶Discussion questions for a variety of children’s picture books can be found at CMU Public Broadcasting ( For How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird, questions include: Why did the little boy want to draw a portrait of a bird? Could the bird be a symbol for the urge to create? Can you find the only picture that does not include the bird? What did the little boy draw/place in the cage to coax the bird inside? From the pictures how can you tell the little boy was very patient?

▶Share painting bird lessons for elementary school children at Deep Space Sparkle: Art Lessons for Kids with the following pages: How to Draw a Bird Art Lesson (; First Grade Watercolor Birds (, and Watercolor Arts Bird Video (how-to) (

Reed, Lynn Rowe. Color Chaos! Holiday House, 2010.

When an artist named Mr. Coleur arrives at Hughes Elementary School, the school is colorless by order of the principal, Mr. Greystone. Color chaos ensues as Mr. Coleur sets out to radically change the black-and-white world. Factual information about color is included.

▶For an interesting presentation of 180 colors, check out Pantone’s Colors (Abrams Appleseed, 2012). The left side of the yellow double-page spread has twenty squares of various shades of yellow with the Pantone names (mustard yellow, honey yellow, school bus yellow, lemon yellow) and the right side has an illustration of a lion made of some of the various yellow shades. This is a fun book in a sturdy format that will lead to lots of discussion of color names. Students might enjoy putting sticky notes on various items in the classroom or library to signify their “exact” color, either using the closest one in this book or creating their own color names.

▶Download a Color Chaos color wheel for students to color and complete (

Reynolds, Peter. The Dot. Candlewick, 2003.

This book encourages children to embrace their creative spirits.

▶Visit Peter Reynolds’s page for a variety of learning activities related to The Dot and a list of questions and answers regarding the story (

▶Other picture books by Reynolds that explore children’s creativity are Ish (Candlewick, 2004) and Sky Color (Candlewick, 2012).

▶Find a simple art activity at Blog Hoppin: Creative with The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds ( or check out KinderArt’s page Making a Dot without Making a Dot Mosaic (

▶Watch for the announcement of the 2013 International Dot Day ( There were 600,000 individuals who participated in the event on September 15, 2012. Register when the 2013 information becomes available and receive a free educator’s handbook.

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Green. Roaring Brook Press, 2012.

This book is all about green things depicted through vibrant illustrations of such things as a forest, a spring day, a firefly, and the sea.

▶The blog of The Classroom Bookshelf: Teaching with Children’s and Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century featured Green on May 21, 2012. The post extended six creative “teaching invitations” (activities) for using the book with young people ( A section for “further exploration” features websites and books that provide additional information connected to Green.

▶Check out Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Lemons Are Not Read (Roaring Brook Press, 2008) which is another intriguing exploration of color.

Sidman, Joyce. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Illus. by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin, 2009. (2010 Caldecott Honor Book)

A blend of the colors of the seasons is depicted through poetry that links to the senses.

▶Look on Joyce Sidman’s Poetry Now! Archives page at writing “sunesthesia” (mixing of the senses) for poems that include color ( You will also find directions for your own personalized poem creation. Also go to Sidman’s teacher’s guide page for additional ideas in using Red Sings from Treetops in the classroom or library (

▶Check out the 24-page guide from Junior Library Guild that features a variety of language-based activities and reproducible pages, such as matching games, find the letter, blend the sounds, etc. (

▶Connect with the classic children’s poetry book Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color by Mary O’Neill, which includes a dozen poems with each featuring a different color. It was originally released by Doubleday in 1973 with illustrations by Leonard Weisgard. A 1990 Doubleday reissue includes illustrations by John Wallner. Another older color book that may be in your collection is Arnold Adoff’s Greens ( Betsy Lewin. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1988), which is poetry in celebration of many things green. Jane Yolen’s Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People (Photographs by Jason Stemple. Wordsong, 2003) includes thirteen poems which each connect to color in nature.

Walsh, Ellen Stoll. Mouse Paint. Harcourt, 1989.

Three white mice discover jars of paint in red, blue, and yellow.

▶The Homeschool Share page has a wide range of activities to accompany Mouse Paint (, as well as activities for Mouse Count and Mouse Shapes. Be sure to click on the links at the bottom of the Mouse Paint section of the page for the Enchanted Learning: Colors page (

▶If you belong to Pinterest, visit the Mouse Paint page ( for an extensive number of pins for learning and art activities.

▶Find a simple color mixing lesson ( and a fun collection of art activities (

Warner, Carl. A World of Food: Discover Magical Lands Made of Things You Can Eat! Abrams, 2012.

Twelve photographed landscapes feature foods of a single color, such as yellow to depict “a desert scene with pasta palm trees, cereal sand, and Swiss cheese pyramids.” In the last section of the book, foods used in the illustrations are identified.

▶An interesting follow-up activity could be to create your own magical food landscapes (or foodscapes!) in the classroom or library, either using real food items or some created from construction paper and crayons.

▶Another fun food weather and landscape book is Judi Barrett’s classic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Illus. by Ronald Barrett. Atheneum, 1982) that shares the story of the town of Chewandswallow. A variety of related activities can be found at:

Carolyn S. Brodie

MLA Citation Brodie, Carolyn S. "Art, Color, Creativity, and Children's Picture Books." School Library Monthly, 29, no. 6, March 2013. School Library Connection,

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Entry ID: 1967442

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