“I loved Laura’s poems and thought it would be fun to set these farming poems in Brooklyn, where a boy is imagining the farm coming to life while playing with his toys.  The style of the paintings was inspired by the American artist Thomas Hart Benton.” ~ Brian Selznick

Thomas Hart Benton was an American artist from Missouri. His paintings are famous for showing ordinary people doing common things. He drew and painted portraits, landscapes, and scenes of people at work in farms, factories, and busy cities. His best-known works are public murals, or scenes on the inside walls of buildings depicting life in America. In this book a city boy is preparing for sleep. Opening his little red barn set, he takes out a toy animal.

The text in Brian Selznick's Barnyard Prayers consists of a series of verse prayers, each offered by a different animal. The art in this book has been rendered in acrylic on unprimed watercolor paper.

Based on:

Barnyard Prayers illustrated by Brian Selznick


  • Pastels
  • Pencil
  • Paper


Students will draw a scene similar to artist Thomas Hart Benton’s landscapes.

Going About Your Artwork
Students will look at the paintings of artist Thomas Hart Benton for inspiration, and will then draw their own landscape. Students should notice the curving, flowing lines, repetition of shapes, and smooth gradation between shadow and light in Benton’s landscapes and try to include these elements into their own landscape drawing as well. Students will first draw out their landscape image on paper (using a photo reference if they would like) and then use oil pastel to fill in the landscape with color. When shading, students should pay attention to smooth blending and creating contrast between shadow and light to mimic Benton’s works.

Extension Activities

  • Selznick used acrylic paint in his illustration. Students can experiment with the same design in acrylic and compare how similar or different their painting looks.
  • Students in middle school and high school can study a unit on other visual artists of the era. Compare and contrast their styles. What are the different artistic movements that inspired them? Alice Provensen's book, My Fellow Americans offers a great resource for further studies of such artists.
  • A study of Selznick's books reveal a range of subjects and a variety of landscapes that students and explore and learn.