Most of us are familiar with the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Images can carry depth and complexity, especially for young minds.
Our earliest communication is through images, symbols, and shapes. A child is introduced to the world with colors and shapes, which become recognizable as mother, father, food, toy, etc. As little ones start to use words, it's helpful to use prompts and clues to connect the words with familiar imagery.
This is part of the unseen power of sharing picture books with little ones. It’s not just the words of a book that impact a child; the images paired with texts also deeply affect young minds. Recent research on the brains of young minds as they respond to different stimuli revealed that neither voice/words alone nor video fully engaged children’s brains. Rather, it was the experience of being read to with a picture book—seeing pictures and hearing words—that best engaged even the youngest of brains.
As a children’s book illustrator, I always think of the story and the readers. My first obligation is to the story. I want to add illustrations that make the story better than when it was text-only. Pictures are used to clarify or reflect the text of a book. In a picture book, the illustrations should also offer clues to what is written. The art should reinforce the story with appropriate characters, colors and design.
An early reader picture book will include images that help readers make that connection. Picture books for older readers will reflect the text but also add depth to the story, playing a bigger part in the story telling. A good picture book will include a good storyline and attractive illustrations, both parts becoming dependent on the other.
As I create the artwork, I ask myself the question, “How can I tell this story in a way that attracts young readers, and their parents/ grandparents, who buy the books?” Book sales are important. This allows me to keep illustrating stories that help young readers develop a love for reading and books. I remember choosing books as a young boy. The illustrations always got my attention, before knowing what the story was about.
I see my job as an illustrator as one who illuminates the text and adds to the story but doesn't distract or mislead from the intended story line. Sometimes, the editor might suggest a visual direction that seems to stray from the author's intended story and sometimes the story leaves room for a varied interpretation. In these cases, the art might seem to travel a slightly different path than the text but they should always support each other in the overall telling of that story.