Analyzing Picture Books

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Artistic Technique/Media

Kadir Nelson uses Oil Paintings to convey the story’s meaning through pictures. The pictures are powerful and captivating. Frye says that, “color communicates mood and reflects emotions in picture books and often shows the passing of time.” Nelson certainly uses the colors of his oil paintings to convey Harriet’s mood throughout the book. Nelson also uses lines to deliver Harriet’s mood. With the exception of one page (the page that she flees, picturing a lone ax left in a stump), Harriet is painted on every two page spread. Mostly, Nelson chooses to paint Harriet’s face, which many lines are present. These facial lines demonstrate all kinds of moods and feelings. At times Harriet feels hopeful, tired, scared, wretched, alone, relieved, angry, passionate, brave, and so on. Nelson paints these lines mostly on Harriet’s forehead and between her eyes; they are a glimpse into her mind and into her thoughts. Without these paintings, the reader would be unable to connect with Harriet emotionally, empathy would be lacking.

Text and pictures

The text and pictures in the book work so well together. I love the three different font choices found in the book. A standard “every day” font represents the story’s narration; an italicized font represents Harriet’s pleading prayers to God, and the larger all capital-letter font represents to words from God. The multiple fonts makes a clear distinction between the voice of the two main characters, Harriet and God. I also appreciated the way the text lied on the paper and molded with the pictures. When God first speaks to Harriet in the book he says “I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free. These words stretch across the two page oil painted spread, they sit within the twinkling stars, they are not only inspirational to her as she makes plans to flee, but also to the reader, ready to take the adventure with her.


In my classroom the audience consists of 20 kindergarteners. It is hard for them to understand slavery and how people could mistreat one another so badly. Slavery is a part of our country’s history and it’s important for them to begin gaining knowledge of history even at a young age. My students asked questions about Harriet Tubman for days after reading this story. They were inspired by her bravery, spirituality, and leadership skills. What a great introduction to such a sad time in our country’s history.

In other aspects, I now understand who Harriet Tubman is better, too. In school, I, of course learned about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. My teachers went about teaching this topic using biographies and nonfiction texts. Whereas I gained respect for Harriet through these activities, I never connected with her emotionally, I never “walked a mile in her shoes.” After reading this book, I now feel as though I know the kind of person Harriet is, a leader that’s brave and spiritual!!!


Throughout the book, the author hones in on a spiritual theme. The author portrays the main character, Harriet as a spiritual person who looks to God for guidance. According to Weatherford, “Tubman saw visions and spoke to God. She believed the Lord called her to free slaves on the Underground Railroad.” Thematically, Tubman would not have been able to free herself and/or others from slavery had it not been for the protection, guidance, and support of God.

Carol Boston Weatherford

According the book jacket, Carol Boston Weatherford has won several awards for her cultural-appreciative picture books.

Kadir Nelson

According to the book jacket, Kadir Nelson began drawing at the young age of THREE! He, too, has been involved with several books that incorporate African-American heritage and resilience to slavery. In his video interview retrieved from, it is evident that Nelson is passionate about what he does. He speaks of the colors and his hesitation to the dark colors that he used to paint the story. Although the pictures use a lot of dark colors, it is still appealing. The dark colors are necessary in creating the mood of the story and portraying Harriet’s emotions. I think the cover of Moses: When Harriet Tubman Let Her People to Freedom, however, is bright to invite readers to read a story of hope and triumph.


Weatherford, C. (2006). Moses: When harriet tubman led her poeple to freedom. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.

Experiencing the Artistic Craft of the Picture Book, PowerPoint: Dr. Beth M. Frye, Appalachian University

Painting african-american history [Web]. Retrieved from,AAAAAFwNJhQ~,2UA9EcWU7eP5deM9ZNtDnpymQvz6Xgnw&bclid=42863248001&bctid=44641239001

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? By Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Artistic Technique/Media

My kiddos loved this book! Before reading it I explained how Steve Jenkins creates the illustrations for this book through collage, just as Susan L. Roth does her illustrations (we’ve read lots of her books lately). After reading we talked about the materials Jenkins may have used to create each animal, it was quite interesting what they came up with. This book was very engaging and was a “page turner,” they made animal-predictions based on the visible body parts shown on each page. Page turns can create suspense and drama, confirm or thwart predictions, and support the text (Sipe, 2001).

Another notable technique used by Jenkins in the texture created through his collages. According to Wooten and Cullinan, “texture is another design element that is found in illustrations and provides the illusion that something feels hard or soft, smooth or rough. Often texture is created through collage and invites readers to ‘feel’ the pages.” In our previous readings of Susan L. Roth books, my students are eager to touch the pages and they are shocked to learn it is simply a flat piece of paper. They had the same reaction the What Do You Do With a Tail Like this?.

Text and pictures

The text is important in this book for explaining the body part which is being identified. The book discusses various animals and their senses or purposes. For example, after recognizing a skunks tail, upon the page turn, the text will explain the purpose of the skunk’s tail, “If you’re a skunk, you lift your tail to warn that a stinky spray is on the way” (Jenkins & Page, 2003). The senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste (consumption), are also addressed in this book. The text supports the pictures, and the pictures support the text in this book. Very well written, very well illustrated.


My kindergarteners loved this book for multiple reasons. Of course they loved predicting which animal would be seen upon page turns, they loved the textured collage illustrations, and in general they love animals. There are many different lessons that could be taught with this book. Lessons on the 5 senses, lessons on movement of animals, lessons on what animals eat, etc. At the back of the book there are categories that go more in depth on noses, ears, tails, eyes, feet, and mouths of each of the animals in the book. This raised more “wonder questions” that students could complete internet workshops on, or research through other nonfiction texts.


The reoccurring theme in this book deals with incorporating “alternate spreads [in which] he zooms in for equally lifelike close-ups of ears, eyes, noses, mouths, feet, and tails” (Kirkus Review, 2003). For each of the body parts Jenkins and Page create a statement “If you’re a (cricket/hippopotamus, jackrabbit, etc) you… The short sentence explains what the purpose of the body part serves for that particular animal.

Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Both Jenkins and Page are notable children’s authors. Jenkins is the author and illustrator of several award-winning nonfiction children’s books. Together, they have two design offices located in Boulder, Colorado and New York City (Jenkins & Page).


Jenkins, S., & Page, R. (2003). What do you do with a tail like this. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Jenkins and page. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kirkus Review. (2003). What do you do with a tail like this?. Retrieved from

Sipe, L.R. (2001). Picturebooks as aesthetic objects. Literacy Teaching and Learning, 6(1),23-42.

Wooten, D., & Cullinan, B. (2009). Children’s literature in the reading program: An invitation to read. In The International Reading Association.

Blackout By John Rocco

Artistic Technique/Media

According to his interview with Julie Danielson, Rocco “like[s] to use Berol Turquoise pencils on Strathmore Bristol paper (cold press) to do a tonal drawing, and then I scan it into my Mac and use Photoshop to apply the layers of color. Sometimes I will find or create textures to layer in as well” (2011). I found it interesting that he enhances his original drawings with technology. This hybrid illustration truly created a masterpiece, also known as Blackout.

Text and pictures

Blackout as a story is definitely more portrayed through Rocco’s pictures as opposed to his written text. However, his written text left the reader with predictions upon each page turn. I love how he continues sentences to the next page (for example, “We huddled around flashlights and candles…” [page turn] “…until it was too hot and sticky to sit inside.”) (Rocco, 2011). He also uses speech bubbles that are filled with an opposing font. The words are very simple. My favorite page consists mostly of negative space full of well-lit stars, contains only one sentence, two words: “The Lights.” (Rocco, 2011). The lights ARE the stars. On this particular night the lack of lights in the city allowed for a more visible sky. This made everyone prepared to party and have a great time!


When I sat down to read this book to my kiddos they were so excited! They told me that our media coordinator, Mrs. Norwood had read them this book during their library class one day. They were able to tell me all about the book as I had not yet read it. They thought it was SO NEAT that they (for once) had read a book that I hadn’t. They even helped me read the book aloud! After reading we talked about a time our power went out (thunderstorms, snowstorms etc.). We all agreed that it is definitely exciting when the power goes out, and Rocco’s right, “…but not everyone likes normal.” (Rocco, 2011).

This book is based off of New York City’s 2003 blackout, and Rocco refers to it as his “ode to Brooklyn” (Danielson, 2011).


My kiddos and I were able to discuss themes after reading the book together. Of course the statement “…but not everyone likes normal.” (Rocco, 2011) stood out to us. We decided that this book implies the idea of “stopping and smelling the roses.” We get caught up in our busy lives, technology, and stress way too often. In this book, it took everything shutting off to remind the family that time together without distractions can be a blast. We decided we were each going to make a point to “slow down” and spend quality time with those we love. My kiders are such wise folks!

John Rocco

John Rocco has been the most interesting author for me to research thus far. I have watched several videos and read many interviews (mostly from the Danielson article). He is super talented and my kids and I equally enjoyed Blackout. In an interview, Rocco described himself as “…an illustrator first and foremost. I became an author somewhat out of necessity” (Danielson, 2011).


Danielson, J. (2011). Seven questions over breakfast with john rocco. Retrieved from

Rocco, J. (2011). Blackout. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.


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