Words without images – like bangers without mash?

We all have children’s book illustrators who we particularly admire. Some may be childhood classics, or we may be drawn (pardon the pun) to illustrators of more modern children’s literature.

Many are both author and illustrator, and there’s no finer example than Beatrix Potter, whose series of stories based on animals are so loved by generation after generation. Who doesn’t enjoy the exploits of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, with the images that go alongside?

Currently, there’s an exhibition about Beatrix Potter at the V&A Museum in London, looking at her life, work and inspiration, and it includes many of her original drawings. It’s on until 8 January 2023, so you have plenty of time to catch it.

But how would those same wonderful books look if they didn’t have any illustrations? Would we love the Tailor of Gloucester, Jeremy Fisher and the Two Bad Mice quite as much if we only saw the text?

What about Jacqueline Wilson’s eponymous hero Tracy Beaker? Without Nick Sharratt’s wonderful drawings, would she be less appealing? And as for Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, we may know from the text that “His eyes are orange, his tongue is black, He has purple prickles all over his back,” but how wonderful to see his image brought to life by the fantastic illustrator Axel Scheffler.

Do you get the impression we love children’s book illustrations? Of course we do! Our very own Sarah-Leigh spends hours every day bringing our clients’ book characters to life with her unique and quirky drawings. We like to think we enhance a story and make it all the more interesting for the young readers.

Here are some of our favourite illustrators.

  1. Quentin Blake – a particular favourite of Sarah-Leigh’s, and the illustrator behind Roald Dahl’s extraordinary characters.
  2. Beatrix Potter – gorgeous watercolour illustrations to accompany her wonderful stories
  3. Nick Sharratt – illustrator of Jacqueline Wilson’s classics, including Tracy Beaker, Dustbin Baby and Lola Rose.
  4. Judith Kerr – who can forget The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which was both written and illustrated by her.
  5. Shirley Hughes – writer and illustrator of the marvellous Alfie and My Naughty Little Sister series.

None of these books would be the same without the drawings. 

However, it is, of course, perfectly possible to have children’s books that rely on the illustrations with little or no text. 

Books for the very young are usually simple picture books, because that is how babies learn by recognising images. A favourite of ours is the ‘That’s Not My…’ series of board books by Fiona Watt. Touchy, feely, entertaining and wonderful drawings, these are designed to be read to very young children to engage them in books.

illustrator of books

So, what comes first, the story or the images? At Happydesigner, when we’re illustrating our clients’ books, then, of course, the story comes first.

But for illustrator/authors, this isn’t always the case. As Sarah-Leigh – who has authored many children’s books herself, including the Gillie Can series – says, sometimes the image comes to mind first, and the story builds around that character; sometimes it’s the story that arrives; sometimes both appear at the same time.

Whichever way around, it’s clear that when it comes to children’s literature, stories and images are completely intertwined. Like apple and crumble, sausage and mash, Jack and Jill they go together perfectly – and that’s the way we love it.

To chat to Sarah-Leigh and Happydesigner about illustrations for your children’s stories, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Written by Jo Smyth (www.wordworker.co.uk)

Some of our previous clients

happydesigner clients