Pictures and Prose
The Big Box
Published in 1999, The Big Box was both Toni Morrison's first picture book and her first collaboration with her son, Slade. The Big Box was inspired by Slade's astute observations as a young child. It tells the story of how even well-meaning adults can hamper their children's freedoms and individuality. Toni and Slade co-authored eight additional books until Slade's passing in 2010.
The Book of Mean People
Toni and Slade's second work was The Book of Mean People, which was controversial for its seemingly negative views of people - parents, babysitters, teachers - who surround children with their mean behaviors. In a 2003 interview for Connect For Kids, Toni explained that the book doesn't aim to expose these people as "villains," but to share the perspective of a child trying to navigate complicated social rules they don't yet understand. Like their prior book, The Big Box, the inspiration for The Book of Mean People was Slade's direct observations and comments as a child.
The Book of Mean People (and its subsequent activity journal) is illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, whose iconic drawings fill the pages of the Who's Got Game? series. The collaboration had a significant impact on Pascal, who charmingly inscribed this original artwork (translated from French) "to Ms. Toni Morrison and to Slade Morrison with all my admiration."
Who's Got Game?
The three books in the Who's Got Game? series reimagined Aesop's fables without any concrete morals. Instead, the stories put that decisive power on the reader. Morrisons' characters are not good or evil, smart or foolish, weak or strong. Rather, they are more flexible, and offer different perspectives, leaving it to the reader to ultimately ask themselves: who's got game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? The Lion or the Mouse? Poppy or the Snake?
Whereas many authors have no creative contact with their book's illustrators, the Toni Morrison Papers are filled with correspondence between Toni and Pascal Lemaître. Toni gave Pascal extensive suggestions, edits, feedback, and praise. An example is a letter where Toni offers insight into the physical characterization of the lion in Who's Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? In a hilarious aside, she mentions how Slade believes the early sketches of the lion look like her. Pascal's responses to Toni and Slade were often paired with charming doodles, cartoons, sketches, and once...chocolates from Belgium!
Books go through many stages before they are seen in their final form. Toni's handwritten manuscripts contain notes and corrections. This publisher's color proof of Who's Got Game? Poppy or the Snake? has a suggested layout that focuses on fonts.
The reader is also part of the creative life of a book. The Who's Got Game? series was praised for their authentic voice that captivated and inspired children, as evidenced by an enthusiastic fan letter and artwork sent to Toni and Slade from a New Jersey third grade student.
Peeny Butter Fudge
Published in 2009, Toni and Slade’s book Peeny Butter Fudge was a highlight of Cheerios® Spoonful of Stories® tenth anniversary. A brilliant collaboration between General Mills and Simon & Schuster, the campaign included miniature versions of books in Cheerios® boxes. It’s estimated that over 60 million books were distributed through the program. While Morrison fans will appreciate the recipe in the back of Peeny Butter Fudge, some will be disappointed it’s not the recipe for Toni’s legendary carrot cake.
An interview with Pascal Lemaître about his artistic process and his experience working with Toni and Slade on The Book of Mean People and the Who's Got Game? series.
Meet the teacher who encouraged students in her third grade classroom to send letters (and artwork!) to Slade.
Watch a panel discussion with the five artists who brought the Morrisons’ words to life with their beautiful, intriguing, and heartfelt illustrations.
Toni and Slade were interviewed by CBS Sunday Morning in 2004 for a segment titled Toni Morrison on a Writer's Life.
Toni was nominated for a GRAMMY Award in 2007 for her audiobook, Who's Got Game? Three Fables, under the category "Best Spoken Word Album for Children."
They've Got Game: The Children's Books of Toni & Slade Morrison was curated by Dana Sheridan, Education and Outreach Coordinator, and Katie Zondlo, Education and Outreach Assistant, Cotsen Children's Library.