Illustrators of children’s books

Oct 16, 2019

Purpose of pictures

As a mum, I have loved rereading picture books with my children - some from when I was a kid, many newly published. Obviously the purpose was to help them learn to read and broaden their understandings of the world around them. The purpose of the pictures is to help provide visual meaning and enrich the text. My kids had favourite books and, as an adult, so did I - not necessarily the same ones!

Children like pictures of things familiar to them. They like animals - possibly because we, the readers, make funny noises for each of them! What amazes me is how a toddler who has only seen pictures of, say, a horse recognises the huge version in real life and says ‘neigh’! 

Liking a preferred style

My blog on wordless stories, looked at a variety of styles of drawings or pictures in children’s books with some examples of certain kids’ preferences. The style of illustrations can draw in the reader or turn them off. There is definitely a skill in initially catching the attention of adults, but then being able to continually entice children. Adults browse stores and select books to buy but if the child doesn’t like the choices, they close the books or reject them. 

Recognising a favourite

With worded stories, the appeal may be a combination of catchy rhymes and repetition as well as the visual attraction. I like both, and one of my favourite authors of children’s books is Mem Fox who has a wonderful way with words. Purchasing a couple of her picture books was initially based on Mem’s lyrical storylines. However, I very quickly developed a love of the artwork, the talent of the illustrator, Julie Vivas. Both women are Australian which is reflected in these books.

So, Possum Magic and Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge are two rather worn and slightly tatty books now. They have been read over and over - to my children, my grandchildren and many children I have taught. However, these are not necessarily my children’s favourite books. But because I love them and add my own thoughts and reflections as I read them, they enjoy them too.

Illustrations in harmony with concepts 

The concepts in these two books may not initially be obvious to children: Aussie icons, empathy, memory, and the ‘olden days’. Abstract ideas are valuable discussion points. Children’s stories are great teaching tools - in the home and in the classroom. Both stories include a grandparent and a child. In one, the emphasis on the caring is with the adult; in the other, it is a caring child. Our perceptions and appreciation of these concepts are influenced by the illustrations. 

The appeal 

Julie Vivas has a style of illustration that I find delightful. She uses elements of caricature to emphasise fat tummies, big bottoms or long legs. There are touches of humour and playfulness. She captures special moments between grown-ups and children with charming representations that say so much more than is revealed in the text. As a parent or a grandparent, you get it!

The process 

I’d like to share with you a YouTube clip that shows Julie Vivas creating Grandma Poss, from Possum Magic, in one of her poses - dancing. She explains the process of watching and drawing real possums, of focusing on features like the hands that help to show how the character is feeling, and of working creatively with watercolours. She points out that Grandma Poss is a made-up possum because she is doing human things - part of the appeal.

Both of these picture books provide great educational opportunities for talking more about Australia, the animals, traditions and elements of our culture: the Hills Hoist clothesline, a love of cricket and football, shells from the beach...; major cities and landmarks, popularised iconic foods… More reasons why I like these books.

Being an illustrator

Julie Vivas obviously loves drawing and painting and has been employed to use her skills in illustrating children’s books. It is great to be able to follow your passion and get paid for it! I enjoyed Googling her and found interviews in which Julie shares more about her techniques. You can also find many more books illustrated by her.

So, if you have children or students who are passionate about drawing, encourage these skills! Finding like-minded role models can help guide them to set goals and direct their development. Can they identify styles they like? Explore Artventure and get your children or students to reflect on why they like doing some artworks more than others. What might it be like to be an illustrator or cartoonist? What skills are needed and how diverse are the possibilities...?

Teacher and Artventure Blogger