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Picture This

picture thisMolly Bang‘s Picture This is her personal exploration as she tries to analyze the emotional effects of art. Most illustrators go with their gut as they compose their pictures, but Molly wanted to see if there were some rules involved as well. An experienced illustrator, she says she began to understand art and composition better through this exploration. This book was originally written for adults, but I know of some teachers, mostly in later elementary and middle school, who use the exercises in the second half of this book.

Did Molly’s explorations resonate for you? Help you understand pictures and illustration?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. I bought this book a few years ago and I am glad I did. Although there are many guide books demonstrating the process of creating illustrations for children’s literature and many more on writing, this book is unique in that it focuses on visual symbolism for stories and how the viewer responds to it. I also liked that it is a very personal interpretation of the subject by Molly Bang. I find it interesting that it is being used in a school curriculum. I wonder what they use it for, art or literature? I wish I had this and many other books when I was an art student! Children and students are living and growing up in a wonderful age now with such an abundance of amazing books like “Picture This” to guide them on their creative journeys.

  2. Kim Fernandes says:

    Wow. I think this book was probably one of the most thought-provoking ones I’ve read in a long time — not because it said anything fundamentally new or different, but rather because it alerted me to think more consciously about the ways in which I perceive a picture and make meaning within a story. I think the book would be a fascinating tool to use when training teachers who work either with very young children, or those who work with children interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. I know those two sounds like oddly disparate categories, but I do believe that this book is unique because it allows the reader to think very deliberately not only about how he/she perceives pictures, but also how the simplest of shapes can be used in different ways to create a variety of meanings. Giving children that space to play around while still making an effort to have them think consciously about the messages they are conveying isn’t something I’ve seen done often in the classroom, and I think Molly Bang does a phenomenal job of getting people to think about how they think about objects. Wow.

  3. Kathleen Zheng says:

    This was an incredible book that made me really appreciate illustrators on a whole different level now. I found myself flipping through to make judgements about the pictures before I read Molly Bang’s descriptions of them and she was spot on every time. The slightest tweaks in the details of a picture can change your whole perception of where you are located in relation to particular objects, produce feelings of comfort/discomfort, and cause you to associate two objects together just because they share the same color. I never thought to pay this close attention to the illustrations of a picture book before, but now I realize that the same intricacies that make the language of children’s books so wonderful are often reinforced by the accompanying pictures as well. I’ve always had the idea that repeated consonants/vowels and parallel sentence structures can help children learn to make connections between the repeated sounds/words as they read, but now I can see how their minds can also form similar connections (or contrasts) by looking at the pictures. For example, I really like the picture depicting Little Red Riding Hood as a small red triangle and the wolf as a big, sharp-looking black wolf’s head with a red eye creeping into the page. The connection between the red Red Riding Hood and the wolf’s red eye is simple but utterly affecting. You can imagine exactly how the wolf’s line of vision is zeroing in on the vulnerable Red Riding Hood as his prey.

  4. I work with preschool and elementary teachers, and they are often vibrant and expressive in reading the text to children, but can sometimes miss the richness of information and discussion to be gleaned from the pictures. I am thinking that Molly’s book will be a great help in developing the skill of visual storytelling, which, once mastered, will result in a greater depth of conversation with the children about picture book illustration. Haven’t tried it yet, but I’m working on a visual literacy training, and this was the first resource I went to for inspiration.

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