Guest Blogger

Coloring page days of rage + Caption Contest

Original comic by Lisa Nowlain

OK, so clearly this is a rant. Sometimes rants aren’t productive, but sometimes they’re a funny and loud way to start a conversation (especially when they’re not being yelled into your face). As someone who is passionate about open-ended creativity and art, who has studied and practiced art in a variety of formats as well as been a children’s librarian, I do feel passionately about the subject.

Coloring pages are a great child-calmer, and we have some in the library. I’ve recently whipped up a couple that are a little more open-ended and they go like hotcakes, but I’ve also been experimenting with putting out blank sheets and they get filled up even faster!

All in all, there’s nothing wrong with having fond memories of doing coloring pages as a child, and they can be quite meditative. But if we’re going to be intentional with our storytimes – which is so important and I’m so grateful for the storytime warriors who are outlining this so clearly – I say we need to be equally intentional with our crafts and activities. Art has an incredible potential for plugging into early literacy practices and inspiring kids to be confident and self-actualizing, if we let it.

And if we let kids do it! Letting kids get messy, make mistakes, and learn that their work and process are valid are steps to building happy and healthy adults. A recent Opinion piece in the New York Times shows that over-structured classrooms don’t intervene in educational slides, and “Other research has found that early didactic instruction might actually worsen academic performance.” Instead, children need space to play and discover things on their own – and though the article doesn’t touch on them, I believe coloring pages are an example of overly-didactic art instruction. Another study, for instance, shows that creativity is decreasing in American schoolchildren, and points to the lack of freedom kids are given as the main reason. There is a lot of freedom in a blank page and an encouraging adult, and in the informal learning space a library can provide.


At the suggestion of the wonderful ALSC member and former president Mary Fellows, I’m hosting a caption contest (ala the New Yorker) for my next post! Give your best shot in the comments. Winner to be announced next post (sorry, no prizes, just glorious celebration of your wit).

Come up with a funny caption in the comments!
Come up with a funny caption in the comments!

More resources on process art and alternatives to coloring pages:

Lisa Nowlain is the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Fellow and Children’s Librarian at Darien Library in Darien, CT. She is also an artist-type (see more at


  1. Jenni

    “The StoryBot came pre-programmed with our summer learning theme. Now we can finally get those kids unplugged and away from screens!”

  2. Kelly Doolittle

    I’m drawing a blank, but I love Jenni’s reply!

  3. Abby Kingsbury

    Thank you for this! I kinda shudder every time I put out more coloring sheets, but, sadly, the coloring sheets are FAR more popular than the blank sheets that I put out. We very successfully do process art in our storytimes, but haven’t been able to transition our patrons away from coloring sheets…sigh…

    1. Lisa Nowlain Post author

      Hi Abby, I feel your pain! And while I shudder too, I also am grateful sometimes to the soothing effects of the coloring pages on some of the more wild children. Hopefully we can evangelize open-ended process art to the point that blank sheets will go out too!

  4. Kiera Parrott

    “The iLib’s inflections are getting a bit better, but I can’t seem to get it to orient the book *towards* the kids. Ah, well. Maybe in the next upgrade.”

  5. Julie

    I nearly cried the day I gave a preschool story time group sheets of blue paper, chalk, cotton balls and scraps of white paper to make cloud pictures and one little girl was completely stymied because there wasn’t an exact model to follow. Lucky for me we were having the perfect kind of day with loads of inspiration right outside the window.

    May I borrow your open ended coloring sheets for our writing station?

    1. Lisa Nowlain Post author

      Hi Julie,
      Absolutely! Please borrow them. Hopefully that cloud making kid is now a master of her own imagination, thanks to your intervention!

  6. Marge Loch-Wouters

    We removed coloring pages at our Main Library 6 years ago and at our branches more recently. We replaced them with hands on story extensions as well as paper covered tables and colored pencils with prompts that Bryce blogs at here:
    A simple elegant solution that stopped the coloring pages madness!

    1. Lisa Nowlain Post author

      I love those! Thanks Marge for the link. I’ve seen it before and have always desired to go that step beyond and make a station!

  7. Karen MacPherson

    Hi Lisa — Thanks for this thoughtful post, full of great ideas and information about open process art. Thanks also for sharing some of your own open-ended coloring pages. And I laughed out loud at your comic at the top — can’t wait to share it with colleagues. At our library, we try to do open process-type art — i.e. we give two-year-olds a blank butterfly form and have them add tissue paper with glue, color it with crayons, etc. I tell parents/caregivers to just let the kids do it – that it’s the process, not the product, that is important. Coloring pages also are popular at our library, esp. in the summer. But I do try hard to use the “anti-coloring book” images, and so will be happy to put out your latest pages!

    1. Lisa Nowlain Post author

      Hi Karen,
      It can be so hard to get caregivers to just let the kids make what they want to make! When I get frustrated about it I remember that the same thing probably happened to them when they were little. It’s exciting to think about all the aspects of creativity our work can inspire, both for little kids and for adults. Sounds like your library has a lot of fun!

  8. Carrie Hummel

    “The children will never be fooled by the ‘storybot’ but I don’t think the chatty parents in the back notice the difference.”

    “Thankfully the ‘storybot’ does not have a touch screen tummy or we would all be in trouble!”

    “I hear all the kindergarten classrooms are getting them next year”

    Oh I could go on all day! An adult colleague asked me the other day if we could just record all our storytimes for a year, and then just play them on a smartboard. I nearly fell off my chair before I proceeded to explain that storytime is not just reading a story. We dance and sing, hold hands, make eye contact, listen, celebrate birthdays and new siblings, give high fives, and model how to get along, all while accomplishing all five early literacy practices!

    1. Lisa Nowlain Post author

      Hi Carrie,
      Thanks for these awesome submissions! And I am amazed that a colleague would ask that. Can you imagine a totally automated library? We would lose so many important aspects of our services!

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  10. ilyanarobin

    Really like your site, it is very informative for us. Thanks for sharing.

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