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Illustration and Illustrators

Materials for Youth 3: Illustrators
from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.
To read the transcript of this video, go to the transcript page.

From simple line drawings to elaborate paintings, the illustrations found in books for children and young adults can play an important role in both the storyline and the visual appeal of a book.

Some books use visual elements in their works. Examine the pages below from Where the Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak. What do you notice? Look at the use of white space. What do you see… or don’t see as the book progresses?





Read Tunnell, Michael O., Jacobs, James S., Young, Terrell A., & Bryan, Gregory (2012). Chapter 4: How to Recognize a Well-Illustrated Book. Children’s Literature, Briefly. Fifth Edition. Pearson.

Rather than focusing on illustrations as a whole, think about specific areas of interest such as types of illustrations (i.e., maps; borders; depictions of settings, characters, or action) or illustration techniques (i.e., collage, pencil, paint).

Read Maps in Literature for Youth. Explore maps of imaginary worlds and real places. Also, examine the connection between maps and technology. Check of 100+ books that contain maps.

The History of Illustrations

The earliest, illustrated book specificially designed for children was published in 1658. Titled Orbis Pictus (page shown below left), this encyclopedia by John Amos Comenius was illustrated with woodcuts.


By the mid 18th century, illustrated books for children were gaining in popularity. For instance, John Newbery published A Pretty Little Pocket-Book (page shown above center) in 1744. The 19th century burst with beautifully illustrated books by Fedor Alexis Flinzer, John Tenniel (image shown above right), Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, and Kate Greenaway.

Recently, authors and illustrators have explored innovative ways to incorporate illustrations into their works. From graphics novels to wordless picture books, the boundaries of illustrated works for youth are being pushed.

Read Tan, Shaun (2011). The accidental graphic novelist by Shaun Tan. Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature, 49(4), 1-9.


The Caldecott Medal

babesRandolph Caldecott was a highly acclaimed children's book illustrator. An example of his work is shown on the right.

According to the American Library Association website,

"The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children."

Zen Shorts (2005) by John J. Muth uses subtle watercolors to provide children with an introduction to the Zen way of life.

The cover of Puss In Books (1998) Illustrated by Fred Marcellio is hard to resist. Spend some time examining the covers of Caledcott winning books.

Traditionally when readers think of quality illustrations, picture books come to mind. However, this is changing. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (20070) by Brian Selznick was given the Caldecott medal.

try itTry It!
Go to the list of Caldecott Medal and Honor Books.
Read a couple books from the list. Why do you think they chosen for the award?

Sequential Art: Comics to Graphic Novels

Visually-rich books for children and young adults are increasingly incorporating elements of sequential art.

“Nowhere has the fissure between adult-sanctioned and self-selected children’s reading been more boldly marked than in regard to comics, an internationally popular form that has often been seen as the province of amoral profiteers rather than a domain children’s literature. If comics have at last ‘arrived’ as a children’s genre, then this new acceptance has been spurred by enthusiasm for the graphic novel, the bulwark of comics’ recent claims to literariness.” (Hatfield, 2011)

Let's define some of the key terms associated with these types of illustrations.

Cartoons. A cartoon is a full-size drawing. Balloons may be used to depict speech and a caption is sometimes found across the bottom of the visual. These works of art are often humorous. Editoral cartoons are funny but often have a serious tone using irony or satire.

Comics. Comics, comic strips, and comic books contain a series of cartoon illustrations that tell a story. Presented in a sequence, comics may be a few panels or many pages.

Digital or Web Comics. Comics that are designed specifically to be shared electronically are called digital or webcomics. Many web comics eventually become popular print comics. Go to the BoltCity website and you'll find both webcomics and links to print comics and graphic novels.

Graphic NovelsGraphic novels are a more lengthy version of a comic book. They usually have a more complex storyline than a traditional comic. Although many are for mature audiences, an increasing number are being produced for young people.

Many books are also available as graphic novels. For instance, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer is available as both a traditional novel and a graphic novel. Neil Gaiman's books like Coraline lend themselves to this type of adaptation. The Graveyard Book (2009) has become a two volume graphic novel. Click the image below center to read a page.


Graphic Memoir, Documentary, and Nonfiction. From hand drawings to photographs there are many ways visuals are used in graphic materials. 

MangaManga is Japanese for comic or whimsical pictures. The format is often associated with a particular style of drawing, but can be applied to a wide range of Japanese comics. Manga are typically read from top to bottom and right to left.

Illustrated Novels. Incorporates visuals into fiction books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

Sequential Art. The category of illustration that includes cartoons, comics, graphic novels, and manga is called sequential art.

Increasingly, highly visual and graphic novel elements are being woven into books for beginning readers. Bink and Gollie (2010) by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee includes cartoon illustrations. Stinky (2008) by Eleanor Davis is one of a number of easy-to-read graphic novels from Little Lit Library for ages 5-8. Bone (1995 +series) by Jeff Smith is a popular series in elementary and middle schools.

abcAuthor Spotlight: Gene Luen Yang
Visit the author website.

American Born Chinese (2006)
Avatar (2012+ series)
Boxers and Saints (2013)
The Eternal Smile (2009)
Nursery Rhyme Comics (2011)

Read Hammond, Heidi (2012). Graphic Novels and Multimodal Literacy: A High School Study with American Born Chinese. Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature, 50(4), 22-32.

Illustration Techniques

A wide range of media have been used to produce book illustrations. From watercolor to collage, illustrators use a wide range of techniques in their work.

Brian Selznick is known for his realistic drawings. The image below from the author's website shows the model used to inspire the book illustration from The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


A number of popular illustrators including Leo Lionni, Eric Carle, Steve Jenkins and Lois Ehlert use collage in their work. In Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World (2014) (below left), Jenkins uses paper to show the biology of animal eyes. In Scrap Book: Notes from a Colorful Life (2014) (below right) by Lois Ehlert provides a "behind the scenes" look at her career as an illustrator using a scrapbooking approach to illustration.


Mo Willems is known for combining photographs with drawings in books like Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (shown below).


Peter Brown is becoming known for his use of color and contrast. In some cases, he uses drab colors along with splashes of color to feature a particular idea or character. In the image below from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (below left) notice Brown's use of color to represent the city and jungle. In Creepy Carrots! (below right), his use of contrast is clear.


Read at least one of the following short articles focusing on a particular media:
Brush Pen - Yang, Gene Luen (March/April 2014). How to draw comics the Yang way. Horn Book, 92-93.
Collage - Mavor, Salley (March/April 2014). The Common thread. Horn Book, 42-43.
Gouache - Lin, Grace (March/April 2014). Gouache and I. Horn Book, 26-27.
Paint - Seeger, Laura Vaccaro (March/April 2014). Push the paint. Horn Book, 50-51.
Pencil - Selznick, Brian (March/April 2014). Human mistakes and trembling lines. Horn Book, 24-25.
Pen, Ink, Watercolor - Floca, Brian (March/April 2014). Pen, ink, watercolor, repeat. Horn Book, 60-61.

Increasingly, illustrators are using a combination of traditional techniques and digital art. Or, moving toward the use of totally digital works.

Read at least one of the following short articles about the transition to digital art:
Brown, Peter (March/April 2014). In service of the book. Horn Book, 48-49.
Danielson, Julie (March/April 2014). Just enjoy the pictures: Hand-crafted versus digital art. Horn Book, 44-45.

Children enjoy exploring a wide range of techniques. In Art Through Children's Literature: Creative Arts Lessons for Caldecott Books, Debi Englebaugh (1994) provides art ideas to go with dozens of Calecott winners. For instance, children can explore collage through Grandfather's Journey, Ox-Cart Man, and The Snowy Day. They examine the use of stencils in Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, Black and White, and Shadow.

try itTry It!
Explore picture books the feature different types of illustrations including Clay, Fabric, and Paper Cut at the Allen County Public Library website.

Book Design

Beyond the media, the overall design of a book is an essential element, particularly for picture books.

Read Scieszka, Jon (March/April 2014). Design matters. Horn Book, 28-40.

One of the most important elements of book design is the cover art.

Read Barthelmess, Thom (March/April 2014). What makes a good book cover? Horn Book, 74-78.

Some authors such as Jan Brett and Graeme Base like to play with their audiences incorporating visual elements in the borders of pages or hidden in illustrations.

Examine the pages of The Mitten (1989) by Jan Brett and notice the panels on the left and right on each page. What’s the purpose of these visuals? How are they part of the story? Click the image on the right below for a larger version.


teachingAnnette's Anecdotes
We all have particular illustration styles that attract our attention. I always enjoyed books that contain borders around the page.

As a teacher librarian, I found that children enjoy creating their own books that contain hidden messages or interesting visual connections in borders.

Read Martinez, Miriam & Harmon, Janis M. (2011). An Investigation of Student Preferences of Text Formats. ALAN Review, 39(1), 12-20. Pay particular attention to the last section that explores different visual formats.


Wonderstruck (2011) by Brian Selznick took the idea of illustrations in children’s books one step further. This work of historical fiction includes 460 pages of artwork and is told by two characters. Rose’s story is told entirely through pictures. A page from the book is shown below. Click the image for a larger version.


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo was given the Newbery award for best in children’s literatures. Called “genre-bending” for both its content and presentation, it combines traditional illustrations with comics and straight text for a unique presentation style. Check out an example below. Click the image below for a larger view.

Flora & Ulysses

Steve Jenkins is known for his interesting use of papercuts in his informational picture books.

steve jenkins the animal bookAuthor/Illustrator Spotlight: Steve Jenkins
Visit the author website.

The Animal Book (2013)
The Beetle Book (2012)
Actual Size (2011)
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? (2008)
Move! (2006)

Joseph Thomas (2011, 6) feels that the area of aesthetics is over overlooked in children’s literature. The focus on children’s books tends to be on social and thematic areas of childhood rather than their aesthetic value. He notes that children are in the process of developing a sense of “taste” and that “this lack of developed taste explains why their tastes are often not in concert with those of cultured adults. Adults know that Chris Van Allsburg’s intricate pencil drawings are beautiful, whereas children may similarly (but “wrongly”) apprehend the new Dora the Explorer sticker book as beautiful.” Thomas notes that works like A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers (1982) and David Macaulay’s Castle (1977) reflect fine art in children’s literature.

Other’s would disagree with Thomas stressing the distinction between children’s literature as art and children’s reading as a part of their everyday life.

Picture Book Illustrators

Below is a list of well-known picture book illustrators.


Englebaugh, Debi (1994). Art Through Children's Literature: Creative Arts Lessons for Caldecott Books. Teacher Ideas Press. Available as an ebook through IUPUI.

Hatfield, Charles (2011). Graphic Novel. In, P. Nel & L. Lissa, Keywords for Children’s Literature. NYU Press.

Thomas, Joseph T. (2011). Aesthetics. In, P. Nel & L. Paul, Keywords for Children’s Literature. NYU Press. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=P3mLbIFas50C

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