Imagine That! Art and Children's Books



Portsmouth Historical Society

10 Middle Street, Portsmouth, NH

Through September 25, 2022




I often joke that I’m finally ready for an elementary school education. After seeing a magical display of the art found in children’s books at the Portsmouth Historical Society, I’m anxious to test my thesis. Today’s toddlers and pre-adolescents have access to creative teachers, cool toys, amazing playgrounds, and marvelous books that make me want to take a mulligan for my own childhood. If you’re anywhere near Portsmouth, New Hampshire before September 25, pop in to the Imagine That! exhibition and join my pity party.


My childhood books seemed old even then: Golden Storybooks, Mother Goose, bowdlerized Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and such like. I never even read or heard Winnie the Pooh because it was English and that simply wasn’t on the American radar in the late1950s. Is it any wonder my mind was blown when I first read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in high school? 


Ekua Holmes



Imagine That! showcases images from children’s books. Let’s get this straight. You can call it illustration, graphic design, or doodling if you wish, but it deserves a more dignified label: art. Some of it is as expertly done as stuff you find hanging on fine arts museum walls and, if capturing the imagination is the goal, far more compelling to contemplate. 


I wonder if Ian McKellen used Wyeth's Merlin for his Gandalf



The Portsmouth show rightly identifies several progenitors of today’s children’s book artists. This is especially the case of those whose work got reproduced in some of the books from my childhood. Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, H. A. Rey, Dr. Seuss, and N. C. Wyeth were among those who made folk tales and yarns spring to life visually. Each had a gift for supplying enough detail to supply mental pictures for the stories at hand, yet leave enough space for young minds to imagine new narratives involving the same cast of characters. To pick a few examples, Wyeth’s illustrations for Treasure Island became the way pirates or the magician Merlin were conceived.


Beth Krommes     



Mo Willems



Most of the show is given over to those who have more recently delighted youth including:  Chris Van Allsburg, Chris Van Dusen, Ryan Higgins, Ekua Holmes, Beth Krommer, David McPhail, Bob Staake, and Matt Tavares. It made my Western Massachusetts heart swell with pride to see works from those who lived and/or studied in the region: Holmes (UMass MAT), Eric Carle, Barry Moser, Mo Willems….


I adored this show and kept snapping away. Confession: I also had a relatively new lens with which I wanted to play. Hey, if I can’t play amidst children’s art there ain’t no justice! I would probably blow out the server if I uploaded all of my shots, so enjoy my sampling. 


Bob Staake 


Bob Staake






Chris Van Allsburg


Ekua Holmes

Chris Van Dusen

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream used to sell a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Be Ten Again.”  Make your way to Portsmouth and you can leave the shirt at home.



Rob Weir


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