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Book Illustrations for Children: Quality Counts!

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Today we take book illustrations for children for granted. They are expected to be colorful, cute and maybe funny. Yet even average consumer can notice some are better than others.

Book illustrations for children are not exactly a rocket science, right?

Sure. But they can still be tricky. Can we write down some criteria by which we can distinguish quality illustration from instant mass products?

1. It is direct.
This doesn’t mean it is simple, though some very simplified drawings proved to be really successful in the world of children’s picture books. Simplification is especially noticeable and popular in last decades but in general kids don’t care if a drawing of a character is realistic or not, if it has right proportions, shadings and similar technicalities.
Much more important is to be faithful to the text. We too often see pictures with tons of unnecessary details masking the presented situation. In most stories we have clear conflict (if story is any good) and this conflict call for pictures. Reader is expecting to see doubt, fear, jealousy. The number of bows on princess dress is superfluous.

2. Good illustration communicates.


Humpty Dumpty by William Wallace Denslow

We can write lengthy essays on this theme but quality book illustration is actually gut feeling. If a look at it keeps us cold, it is probably not communicating, at least not on the appropriate level. Book, for children or not, is media.

This means it sends a message and invites to explore, in some cases even provokes. Mere presentation of certain character or relationship is never enough. Artistic work should offer more. Great illustration always stimulates and triggers some kind of emotional response.

3. Quality illustrations add value.

It is clear an illustration should tell a story. If we can say many books for children can do fine without any kind of pictures and many picture books can tell interesting and engaging stories without a single word, the winning combination is made of written story which can stand as is and illustrations which are so well made they (every one of them) can tell their own stories.

When everything is in right place, something clicks and we can see how images show different layers of the story, offer surprising twists or explore hidden depth of the characters. Since second half of 19th century the quality of picture book is achieved only when one plus one is more than two.

Illustration adds value to to text

Princess Nobody by Richard Doyle

What can we, as parents do, to choose only the best among thousands of illustrated books on shelves?

1. Read every book for kids before we buy it.
2. Read a review of this very same book.
3. Discuss with friends, librarians, members of reading club … about it.
4. Visit my blog where I explore the gems from the history of illustrated books.
5. Never stop learning.

All used images on this page are public domain and royalty free because their authors are dead more than 70 years. All are edited by me.

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