Story & Pictures By is a feature-length documentary from Emmy-nominated director Joanna Rudnick exploring the power and reach of children’s picture books through the lens of three contemporary authors/illustrators: Mac Barnett, Christian Robinson, and Yuyi Morales.
Together, they represent a new generation of storytellers who are working to challenge, transform, and expand the stories and experiences portrayed in children’s literature. In what many are calling the second Golden Age of children’s picture books, no subject is off limits whether its immigration, gender identity, or racism. As Mac Barnett says, “If it is happening in the world, it belongs in a picture book.”
At a time when our society is increasingly polarized, and children are constantly exposed to frightening news stories—about everything from the climate crisis to mass shootings—there is an even greater demand on picture books to address these issues and to be inclusive and reflective of a more diverse society. There is also an overwhelming need for empathy and for exposure to a multitude of creators, viewpoints, cultures, and experiences.
The anti-immigrant rhetoric of the last election drove Yuyi Morales to share her personal immigrant story through her latest picture book Dreamers, a book that shows what immigrants are forced to leave behind when they migrate and the gifts they bring with them. Christian Robinson includes characters of all different skin colors, ethnicities, religions, and abilities in his stories. In his latest book Another, the protagonist of the story discovers a world through a portal where everyone has a double. It’s that universal feeling to want to meet someone just like you! Mac Barnett’s latest story The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown tells the story of a woman who changed and challenged every rule around writing for children, and whose life was littered with ups and downs, living outside of social norms, only to meet an untimely death (yes, it’s in the book) at a young age.
Picture books are the stories that put our children to bed at night. They instill a love of storytelling; they teach visual, auditory, written, and emotional literacy; and they provide the space and agency for children to better understand themselves and the world.
In addition to following Christian, Yuyi, and Mac as they embark on the journey of crafting their next books and as they engage with children in schools and libraries across the country, the film explores the history and nature of the children’s picture book itself. Why do some become part of the canon and others are lost to history? How is a picture book made? Who are the creators and gatekeepers behind these powerful stories? How do they impact our children and how do they impact us?