Mother B. and Junior B. and I were all discussing our favorite illustrators a couple of weeks ago, and we thought the subject would make an excellent blog post. I'm going to split this topic into a two part series, and do a children's edition and an adult edition, because it divided nicely.
The goal of every book is to help the reader 'watch' the story while it's happening. Like watching a movie, if you will. Some authors do such a good job that the reader can't bear to have it illustrated for fear their mental picture will be spoiled. Other authors get even better with a little enhancement to bring their book alive; and there the role of the illustrator comes in.
An illustrator has a delicate business to transact. If they get it wrong, they'll make readers shudder with what they've come up with. I've read books before where my own imaginative experience was spoiled due to a poor illustrator, and I could never get my own picture back in my head. But on the other hand, give me a good illustrator and it brings the book to colorful life under their hands.
In my limited experience and study (which is very limited) I would guess that the best and most beloved illustrators are those who keep a constant eye on two things: the spirit of the book, and the joy of their intended audience. For instance, in today's feature of children's illustrators, all of the authors have a certain imaginative whimsy about them; a willingness to enter in and look at the stories as if they are real. A complete abandonment of self-consciousness, and delight in the book as it is.
Illustrating for children requires beauty and careful skill. Some of the illustrators I've chosen for today used a very simple style. Others used very elaborate drawings. Children can appreciate the beauty in both, and since good illustrations train their perception of what is good and beautiful, this is no light task. You can never lavish too much detail on young folk, for whether or not they understand all of it, it will soak in and shape them without them even realizing it--so pick out the best of the best.
Today, we came up with a list of our top favorite children's illustrators. They'll probably be familiar and dearly loved by all of you.
1. Tasha Tudor
An illustrator without compare, Tasha Tudor's exquisite, detailed, feminine drawings brought to life the Francis Hodgson Burnett classics for us. (I realize there's controversy on Burnett's books, but that's beyond the scope of today's post.) A Little Princess has beautiful illustrations; however, Tudor wrote and illustrated many of her own works, including counting books and alphabet books for wee folk, and stories for young readers.
2. Jan Bower
The more I talk to people, the more I find Jan Bower's books aren't as well known as I thought, and that's a great shame. She's a homeschool mom living in northern Michigan, and she and her husband Gary write and illustrate their own line of Bright Future books. If you haven't picked their books up, and you have young children, these make excellent birthday gifts and read-alouds:
Jan also does family portrait painting. ;)
3. Garth Williams
Garth Williams is well known for his illustrations in books written for both young and elementary school readers. I was surprised, when I looked at his bibliography, how many books I was familiar with, some of which I hadn't thought about in a very long time. :)
4. Robert McCloskey
I love McCloskey's works. My brother and I read them so many times as wee folk, and when Junior B. was much younger we read them to her as well. We haven't checked them out in years, because we've moved on to Tolkien and Dickens, but we still have a fond spot for McCloskey, and even tried to name the ducks from Make Way For Ducklings the other day. (Our memories have grown a little rusty.) Since my dad grew up in Maine, we always loved the sequel to Blueberries for Sal called One Morning in Maine. And Homer Price--excellent literature.
5. Johannah Bluedorn
If ever modern devotionals and prayer books were illuminated to the extent they were done in medieval times, I would want one done by Johannah Bluedorn. Her exquisite art brings psalms alive, and in her days as a homeschool daughter at home, she illustrated books for her family business which are still available today.
6. E. H. Shepard
What can you say about Shepard? The paintings speak for themselves, and leave you with a bittersweet ache. Shepard is well known for the talking animal stories he illustrates, and decades after they first released, people still love his pictures. Christopher Milne loved his Pooh illustrations, and Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, said that Shepard caught the spirit of the book exactly as he intended it. That's high praise.
All of these authors seemed to keep in mind, as they illustrated, the spirit of the story, the spirit of the author, and the spirit of the child reading them. Each book and painting is a work of art, and they are so beautiful that they give you an ache of happiness just looking at them.
I'll be back on Tuesday with adult authors, and I'm looking forward to that post as well. But these are six of our favorite children's authors, and I would love to hear your favorites in this category as well!