Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books

Opening May 6, 2022

Portsmouth Historical Society has assembled a collection of extraordinary illustrations for children’s picture books by a “who’s who” of New England illustrators, from Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth, to Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings), Hans and Margret Rey (Curious George), and Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Geisel); to contemporary artists Chris Van Dusen, Mo Willems, Tomie dePaola, and Ashley Bryan. In all, more than one hundred illustrations, including new reflections on diversity and inclusion, offer a springboard for children and adults to explore the imaginative world of picture books and reading together. Accompanying the exhibition are creative reading, craft and play areas, and an impressive “Journey Box” initiative that takes picture books, reading, and book-making to local schools, libraries, and underserved families.

Historically, Portsmouth sits at the heart of a region rich in children’s book illustration and publishing, which blossomed in Boston as early as the 1830s and now reaches to Portland, Maine, and beyond. By the turn of the 20th century, aided by modern printing methods, popular children’s books featured the bold compositions and vibrant colors of artists including Maxfield Parrish and N. C. Wyeth. Their work animated the pages of stories meant to capture a child’s imagination. Surpassing the moralistic tales of colonial New England, the picture books of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries are not only entertaining and educational, but have, as the exhibition title suggests, the power to ignite children’s imaginations, reaffirm the connections that come from reading aloud, and inspire art.

Resources for Diverse Books

Here are links to resources for parents and educators to find out more about diverse books:

Where are the people of color in children’s books? 

Walter Dean Myers, The New York Times, March 15, 2014

TED Talk by author-illustrator Grace Lin

on the impact of the books that appear on your child’s bookshelf, March 18, 2016

The Diverse Bookfinder

A collection of children’s picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) published since 2002. The site includes a searchable database that makes it easy to locate and explore children’s picture books featuring BIPOC characters.

We Need Diverse Books 

Links to sources of diverse books.

Indigo Arts Alliance’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival

An annual summer children’s festival in Portland, Maine, celebrating the legacy of author-illustrator Ashley Bryan, with many online resources for educators and parents.

I’m Your Neighbor

Building stronger communities through children’s book resources for new immigrants.

Thank you to our generous sponsors

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