Children's Book Illustrators

Children's book illustrators are just as important to the success of new picture books as are the authors. Maybe more so. Think about it . . . when you think about your favorite children’s book, what stands out? The plot or the illustrations?

If you’re like me, memories of a good children’s book always include the illustrations. In fact, some children’s books are so closely linked to the illustrations that newer versions of particular books don’t seem quite right.

My first copy of Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, included the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. No other illustrator has ever quite seemed to capture the unusual qualities of that book – at least not for me.

In the genre of picture books, the illustrator is especially important. In fact, children's book illustrators can “make or break” the success of a new picture book.

Although publishers are the ones who normally decide which professional illustrators will create the drawings for new books, authors can make suggestions as to the type of illustrations they envisions for their books.

19th Century – A Golden Age for Illustrators

According to Susan Meyer, author of A Treasury of the Great Children’s Book Illustrators, most of the great children's book illustrators in history were born in 19th-century England – during the Victorian era. That’s because until that century, childhood was never viewed as being very different from adulthood.

In Victorian-period England, however, middle-class families began looking for ways to indulge their children. This included entertaining them with delightful stories (as Charles Dodgson did with Alice Liddell – the inspiration for Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). The publication of those stories provided ample opportunities for illustrators.

One 19th-century illustrator, Randolph Caldecott, was honored shortly before World War II (in 1938), when the Caldecott Medal was created in his honor. This award is given each year to a distinguished illustrator of a children’s book.

(The John Newbery Medal, created in 1922, is given to a distinguished children’s book writer each year. You can see a partial list of Newbery Medal winners on the Authors of Children's Books page.)

Modern-Day Illustrators

Because of the international nature of today’s publishing world, illustrations in recently published children’s books look very different than the ones seen in the classics that students were reading in the early part of the 20th century.

These days, children have access to books written by Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.

The artwork in these books is colorful and unique, serving as a constant reminder of the different cultures in this country and the wide range of styles among children's book illustrators.

Caldecott Medal Winners

Here is a partial list of the winners of the prestigious Caldecott Medal, spanning 63 years:

2005 Kevin Henkes Kitten’s First Full Moon
1996 Peggy Rathmann Officer Buckle and Gloria
1993 Emily Arnold McCully Mirette on the High Wire
1982 Chris Van Allsburg Jumanji
1980 Barbara Cooney Ox-Cart Man
1976 Leo and Diane Dillon Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
1970 William Steig Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
1964 Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are
1961 Nicolas Sidjakov Baboushka and the Three Kings
1959 Barbara Cooney Chanticleer and the Fox
1954 Ludwig Bemelmans Madeline’s Rescue
1942 Robert McCloskey Make Way for Ducklings

Find Out How to Become an Illustrator

If you’re interested in becoming an illustrator, check out our page on Becoming a Professional Illustrator, where I provide several tips and resources.

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