Children’s Books with a purpose!

Writing a Children’s book? What’s the point…

Children’s books have changed enormously over the past several decades. From Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (drinking lashings of ginger beer), to Harry Potter (quaffing lashings of butterbeer, come to think of it), children’s literature has gone through many iterations. 

Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker lives in a children’s home (we’re unlikely to have encountered that scenario in one of Blyton’s books) and Anne Fine has teenage boys caring for Flour Babies in her eponymous book – would Arthur Ransome have had his Swallows and Amazons considering the difficulties of parenting? But even though late 20th and 21st century children’s book have contemporary settings, they still have something in common with their older counterparts: there is a purpose or a theme which engages children and – sometimes more subtly than others – delivers a message.

childrens picture book

Books with a purpose and Happydesigner

At Happydesigner we read lots and lots and lots of children’s books. We read the books we are asked to illustrate and we read others just for fun. 

We’ve got to know which work best and – to be blunt – which don’t. The ones that do have structure and a theme. The ones that don’t, well, don’t!

Writers who create purposeful prose are definitely our favourites. We’ve worked with authors to illustrate books on bereavement, abuse, adoption… all situations that affect children directly, or affect their peers.

Through books, children get to learn about compassion, love, friendship, risk, empowerment.

Books don’t have to be preachy, or obvious, but some kind of message has to be there; some kind of purpose. Otherwise – as we asked at the start – what’s the point?

We always apply this logic to our own books. Sarah-Leigh’s Gillie Can series, sees Gillie learning all sorts of practical skills (like counting) and more emotional skills (like sharing).

childrens illustrator Sarah Leigh wills

For older children, the core message may be less overt. The Harry Potter series is as much about friendship, trust, jealousy, cowardice, bravery, risk and betrayal as about wizards and whacky incantations.

Among the most enduring stories are fairy tales handed down from generation to generation. No need to dig too deep to see the core themes in the likes of Snow White (jealousy), Goldilocks (greed), Pinocchio (truthfulness) and Cinderella (jealousy again – that one crops up a lot!)

Top ten children’s books

In 2015, The Book Trust – the UK’s largest reading charity, which reaches millions of children every year with books, resources and support to get every child reading, regularly and by choice – asked the nation to vote for their top ten favourite books – they are currently working an updated list for 2021. They were:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling
  2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  3. The BFG by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
  4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  5. Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne, illustrated by E H Shepherd
  6. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
  7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien
  8. Charlotte’s Web by E B White
  9. Northern Lights [from His Dark Materials trilogy] by Philip Pullman
  10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis

It’s great to see such a mix of old and modern classics and – to prove our point – all have a purpose. Personal favourite among these? Has to be Charlotte’s Web, because Sarah-Leigh LOVES drawing spiders. Second favourite? BFG, because illustrator Quentin Blake is Sarah-Leigh’s hero.

At Happydesigner, we have a new series coming out soon, of our own books – watch this space for more details. The theme will be the environment, and helping children to learn and understand through powerful storytelling.

childrens book illustrator

Are you writing a children’s book?

If you are then, first off, fantastic. Yours may be the next The Little Prince – said to be the best-selling children’s book of all time.

Second, however you set to – whether you just plunge in, or whether you spend time planning the book in minute detail – remember who you are writing for (i.e. which age group) and make sure you have a purpose. We see lots of books that start well, then peter out, with no direction and an abrupt ending. Don’t let yours be one of these. And if you’re ready to go ahead with creating your children’s book, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch to find out how we can bring your characters to life.

Written by Jo Smyth (

A few of my previous clients

happydesigner clients

  • "WOW! Love it! I'm so happy with what you've produced- and with so little input from me. FANTASTIC!!! THANK YOU” - Darren Pascoe: 'Red Rabbit Book'

  • “Books arrived safely today- I am absolutely delighted with how they look – I can’t thank you enough – you’ve made my dream come true :)” – Jane Collins

  • "I am absolutely thrilled with the colours and love the look and overall feel of the book, its so different and unique, thank you so much"
  • "I can’t speak highly enough of Sarah! She has brought Roopert Snoopert to life in a way I could never have imagined.
    The illustrations are fantastic! Sarah keeps you update with progress from the draft stage right through to sign off." - Paul Micklewright
  • Sarah has a great insight into how to best produce a children’s book and is really helpful in getting you there! I really cannot recommend Sarah enough – brilliant designer, friendly and professional. The experience has been a great one!“ – Jodie Jackson
  • Sarah is an extremely talented designer and illustrator. She has that rare gift of being able to find something in your business or character that you never knew existed" Craig Green

  • “Thank you, Sarah, for the amazing work you did on the illustrations for my book. Working with you has been so easy thanks to your enthusiasm, flexibility, support, professionalism and, of course, the amazing quality of your work." – Stuart Neath

  • "Sarah loves her work, her friendly ‘can do’ approach is reassuring whether you’re on your first or tenth book."  – Darron Jon Love
  • "Sarah quickly understood what I wanted to achieve and the look I was after. Sarah kept me informed and brought me into the whole process” – Darron Jon Love

  • Sarah is professional, friendly and very knowledgeable, she delivered 100% with a new logo that was spot on! We can't recommend her enough!” - Lucy @ Get Active

  • "These posters and flyers are perfect”
    - Julia G, Manager at the Truro branch of Pets at Home

  • "The logos are absolutely fantastic, they are spot on brief and are even better than we imagined!Paolo Pini, Step Up To Languages

  • "Sarah is amazing - very fast at understanding the requirements, great pictures and never too much trouble. I recommend her wholeheartedly" - Fernando Caldeira-Saraiva
  • "I hope my recommendation will persuade you to use Sarah! I cannot fault her, for her professionalism, enthusiasm and talent." - Michelle Hawkins, Director: The Flying DoDo

  • “I am so happy that I found Sarah to bring my book to life. Sarah took the time to listen and really made the effort to make sure that I was happy and her brilliant designs translated the words of my book into a beautiful visual story." - Jodie Jackson

  • "Sarah understood what I was looking for and produced a fantastic logo for me.  She is very approachable and friendly – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her” Katie Jarvis, Fancy Prints

  • “When we first contacted Sarah, Dainty Dizzy was a concept;  an idea to be shaped into a brand.  Sarah took this idea and illustrated it perfectly….and our brand look and feel was born.” – Dainty Dizzy

  • “Sarah was lovely to work with and keen to make sure that the illustrations were a perfect match for the story. It’s obvious that she really cares about her work and wants you, the author, to be happy with the final results.” – Marion Adams

  • Sarah really understood the brief right from the beginning and has been able to translate my ideas and mental images, that at times were quite specific, into magical illustrations that are better than I’d ever hoped. She has absolutely nailed it!” – Gareth Edwards

  • “Sarah’s re-branding of my business has given it a much needed fresh and quirky feel. She provided us with an extremely friendly courteous and efficient service and injected an energy into the project, that only Sarah could.” – Discovery Leisure

  • “I was so nervous ringing you as i've never done anything like this before, but you were so friendly and put me completely at ease.” - Donna Purvis

  • "Thank you both so much for your hard work and dedication. Sarah is a fantastic illustrator! It is nice to know I have worked with someone who is so professional at her job, and will certainly remember her for the future if I need another book illustrating."
  • "She has a keen eye for the quirky detail, she is punctual and a joy to work with. I simply cannot praise her enough.” - Clickety Books

  • "It's been great working with Sarah as our illustrator! She's been so great in taking all feedback on board and delivers work of the highest standard. Would 100% recommend :-)" - Michelle Gibbs, Doodle Dozen Series
  • “Sarah’s advice has been invaluable, she could have just illustrated my first attempt but knew there was more to be had from the story and pointed me towards the right help." – Darron Jon Love

  • "Outstanding illustrator with exceptional talent. You couldn’t wish for a better artist, as it would be impossible to find. Such a spectacular gifted designer who is always happy!" - Rachel Lake