The Importance of the Illustrator

At my internship the other day, I discussed with my site supervisor how connected some images are to books. What I mean by that is how certain types images become connected to certain books. Though most authors do not get to choose their illustrator, some do and some begin a long working relationship. After a period of time, that style of art by that particular artist becomes inextricably linked to that author.

I have been a long time fan of Roald Dahl. I have read nearly every single one of his children’s books and his autobiographies. As a big reader, I would get stuck on something and couldn’t stop until I had consumed all I could. Dahl was a favorite of many of my friends when I was growing up and he remains popular today. The reason I’m mentioning him is this: imagine a Roald Dahl book. Odds are, you’re thinking of the illustrations of Quentin Blake. He illustrated 18 of Dahl’s books and his distinctive scribble style became synonymous with Dahl’s whimsical stories.  I remember in 4th grade we were reading, as a class, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Our desk were pushed together and our teacher left copies of the book near us and I jumped to make sure I got the one illustrated by Blake. For me, it just wasn’t Dahl if Blake hadn’t drawn the pictures.

This isn’t the only case of this. Another perennial favorite in children’s literature is Jon Scieszka (I managed to spell that without checking). From his page you see the original artistry of Lane Smith. Would The Stinky Cheese Man still be uproariously funny if someone else had illustrated the book? Probably, but the pictures tell so much of the story that they become a part of each other. This is  why a good illustrator takes a picture book from good to great. Though both Blake and Smith are authors in their own right, their artistry in connection with certain authors have made them memorable and enduring.

Pay attention to your favorite children’s books. Do you notice a particular style associated with a certain author? Illustrations tell part of the story and are important to early literacy skills as they help children connect images with words and develop a larger vocabulary.  Sometimes they tell all of the story, as is the case with wordless books. Chalk is one such book and is on the 2011 ALA Notable Book List for younger readers. Wordless books allow children to fill in the blanks of the story and develop story telling skills.

The Caldecott Medal is a good place to start when looking for great illustrations in picture books, but also check out the Belpré Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award as they both give out illustrator awards and are a good way to seek out new illustrators. Take note of how the illustrations fit in with the story, how they tell parts of the story that words don’t, and if the illustration style seems to work with the text. You may find that you like collage art more than line drawings or watercolors over acrylics. Or you may find that you only really like a certain book because of the way it looks.

The author-artist link is an important one and it is something that children notice. Taking note of the artistry before recommending a book is something we should all do because some books just aren’t the same if someone else has drawn the pictures.

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