Powerful pages: The art of the picture book

They have the ability to sweep our little ones and us away to different worlds. To make us laugh. To make us cry. To pick us up when we are feeling down. In addition, they can pass down valuable life lessons. As a picture book author, illustrator, and parent, I know the power a great picture book can hold. But what makes a good picture book so powerful? Author Dorien Brouwers explores this question, in this week’s guest blog post.

The stories may seem simplistic, and the illustrations possibly whimsical. Yet each word or flick of a brush is carefully chosen to move, enrich, inspire, encourage, entertain and educate the next generation — no mean feat when creating a short story for a young audience.

Illustration from Sail by Dorien Brouwers

A good children’s book goes beyond the symbiotic relationship between text and imagery or the promotion of literacy and vocabulary skills. A truly great story celebrates our highest values and ideals. They can provide an escape as well as a tool to help us cope with real-world issues. Through the magic of a story, the reader can be entertained while developing the skills to deal with life’s complexities. 

Picture books help children make sense of the world around them. Therefore the author needs to have the ability to break down big ideas and make them manageable for a 3-8 year old audience. Text and illustrations both have to tell a story in a clear way to engage the readership. The beauty lies in its simplicity.  

Stories don’t necessarily need to have a message, though. And personally, I try to avoid force-feeding morals or sound like I’m lecturing/teaching a lesson. The story should be enjoyable first and foremost in order to instill a lifelong love for reading. If the reader takes something away at the end of it, then that’s a bonus. A great story has heart and emotion. It keeps the reader engaged because it is felt. They are real works of art.

cover of Sail by Dorien Brouwers

My latest picture book ‘Sail’ takes the reader on a journey. When a child sailing his boat ends up falling overboard during a big storm, he manages to keep going and find treasure in the deep. He learns every situation, especially the challenging ones, holds an opportunity for discovery and growth. The message of resilience is key. To be persistent with finding the lessons in challenging times. With the world still in the throes of a pandemic, ‘Sail’ can be used as a tool to help children adopt a growth mindset and make them feel empowered no matter how stormy their life may seem.

With one in every three books sold being a children’s book, it is fair to say picture books are still going strong in the digital age. And for a good reason: much-needed magic is hidden between the covers of a book. Books can change a child, a class, a generation, and with that — the world. If that’s not powerful, I don’t know what is!

This is a guest post by Dorien Brouwers, the author and illustrator of ‘Sail’ (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).

Dorien Brouwers and Sail will be featured in Pop Up Festival for SEND – Autumn 2021

Get in touch with our education team

Find out more:

Visit Pop Up Hub – where you can find out more about Sail and download Dorien’s free teaching resources

Buy the book

Visit Dorien’s website