The Importance of Illustrations in Children’s Books

Children’s book illustrations add understanding and substance to the written story.

Below is a guest post by Susan Day. A talented Australian author who connected with me through LinkedIn. She is the author of 15 books, an educator, and a content marketer. 

If you are an avid reader of books, and love sharing children’s books with your children and grandchildren you have no doubt come across some impressive illustrations.

As an author and illustrator, I want to let you in on a little secret. Did you know that the illustrations can take up to twice as long to complete as writing the manuscript?

As well, being an illustrator takes a lot more skill than just being a good drawer or painter. The art of illustrating is much more complex and requires talent, perseverance, and a particular quirkiness to read in between the lines of any manuscript, and produce something which is exceptional.

However, do you think illustrations get the credit they deserve? I know children love them, but do we adults really take the time to stop and truly appreciate the work that goes into them?

A Pictures Paints a Thousand Words

You don’t need me to tell you that a picture paints a thousand words. In fact, research has just proven it.

Pig wrapped in snake. Illustration by Dayne Sislen

Pig in a Pickle. look at the details to learn more about the story even without the words. The tiny frog on the right foreshadows the action.

We consume information 60,000 times faster from an image than from the written word – 60,000 times faster! That’s amazing.

This means an illustrator has a tough job. He or she has to not only capture what’s going on in the story, but they are responsible for conveying so much more in less time than it takes to blink.

Illustrations Retell the Story and More

When an illustrator is given a manuscript to work from, they are often provided with an outline or brief of what the publishers and authors want.

However, many illustrators will tell you that their job requires them to capture something rare about the story.

They must read between the lines to discover a unique quality or essence which may not even be mentioned. They must use lines and color to celebrate, enhance or explain more about the characters than what the author has written.

These are usually portrayed in very subtle ways.

It might be a few crooked whiskers on a naughty cat. It might be an image of a little boy with one sock pulled up and the other sagging down conveying a certain disheveled state.

It could be a drawing of a queen resplendent in her furs and gown, but peeking out from under her hem a small, cheeky mouse appears.

Illustrations can be engaging, whimsical and endearing

Finding that special characteristic is what makes illustrations engaging, whimsical and endearing.

Little girl on chair with mouse.

The cat in the background carries throughout the story adding action and suspense to a cute poem. The cat is not mentioned in the text.

Any artist can draw a character, but it takes the special talent of an illustrator to add something rare and distinctive which is designed to capture the imagination of the reader.

So, next time you pick up a children’s book and settle down to share it with your favorite person take a while to appreciate the illustrations.

Discuss them with your child, and ask what can they see? How do the images make them feel? What do they reveal about the characters or the plot?

I’m sure if you don’t already you’ll soon begin to realize how important illustrations in children’s books really are.

About My Guest – Susan Day

Susan Day is an author of 15 books, an educator, and a content marketer. I recommend her blog, Astro’s Adventures Book Club, it’s full of ideas and tips for grandparents who want to build a strong relationship with their grandchildren. In particular, Susan specializes in helping grandparents share their love of books with their grandchildren.

Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three boss cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo. And, apart from blogging, writing and reading; she loves drinking coffee, painting and learning to box.

If you are interested in discussing a book you have written with an illustrator (that’s me). Fill in the form below:

Just in time for “Talk Like a Pirate Day”

Ahoy, me hearties! Blimey, I had to batten down me hatches to do this wee Sea Dog lad just for fun. Just a wee loose sketch, No time t’waste this fine day to color it in. I love Talk Like a Pirate Day! PIrate_Day

I just sent in my Kid Lit Creature for 2015

Meet Whiff, the curious: my new Kid Lit creature.


Just sent in my Creature for Kid Lit Creature Week 2015. I really like this little guy, I think I might be thinking up a book story to go with him. Go to Kid Lit Creature Week 2015 to read more about this event.

10670023_352891511544231_1053382273318523695_nIt’s fun to create new characters. When I am working on a book for a client I am not able to share most of the illustrations until the book is published. So when I make up a character for myself, I like to let everyone see it.

Create a creature, and share it online during KidLit Creature Week. You’ll see many familiar names submitting theirs! Complete instructions can be found there.


Working on new Picture Book ideas I came up with during PiBoIdMo


November was Picture Book Month. It was also PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) for me. I came up with more than 30 new ideas for picture books. It’s great to have such a file of ideas to work from. Now I need to go through them and decide which ones are worth working on right now, which ones need a little more time and which ones just need to disappear.

Since I am first an illustrator and a writer second, I always start with visual ideas. So my idea of expanding these ideas is a little more complicated than just jotting down a few lines. My best work comes from developing the characters visually, their personalities and all their quirks before I start with the story. I also sketch out each scene of the book before I start writing. So this process takes a bit more time than I would like it to.


First step to illustrate a picturebook

Character studies:

This is my favorite part of the process. This is the part where I read the manuscript over and over until I  become completely familiar with each character. If I am illustrating directly for a self-publishing author, I also listen carefully to what the author says about the characters and scenes. If I am working for a publisher, the author has very little input, I work with the publisher’s art director. The book I am working on now is for a self-publishing author. It’s about a ‘Round’ little girl who wants to be a ballerina butterfly in the school play. Olivia, all the kids in her class who tease her, the teacher and her very wise grandmother are characters. I will also be illustrating Olivia’s grandmother’s garden, the school room and Olivia’s bedroom.





I’m Illustrating a picture book about pigs!

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I’m illustrating a book about three little pigs in the jungle to be exact. It’s called “Don’t be a PIG in a Panic!” by Leila Leidke.  I’m having a lot of fun and the pigs are getting easier and easier … Continue reading

New illustration of young girl

FallConfBanner_pastel*This an illustration I just finished last night. I had fun combining images of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” with a young girl’s day-dreams. This illustration was done using the pastel brush in Corel Painter 12. Digital art is still new to me, but I am loving it.

On Monday, I’m starting to illustrate a children’s book for an author I’ve never worked with before. It’s a great story and I am very excited to start. The part I love most when illustrating a children’s picture book are the character studies. In this book I will have quite a few interesting animals to illustrate and some lush backgrounds. Can’t give away too many details until the author says I can talk about it.

Color Version of Scottie

By Dayne SislenThis is the same rough pencil that I posted in my last blog (see below). I have added some color using Corel Painter 12 to experiment with technique and color. I will probably redraw the drawing for the final illustration. I like the loose watercolor on the water, I’m not so sure of the exact technique used on the sky. I also want to show a little more definition between the sky and the water. The text will be over the Scotties head on the left and on the right side of the spread.

This is a work in progress, feel free to comment. Click on the thought bubble in the top right corner.

Some more roughs of Scottie dog story.

Illustration by Dayne Sislen

by Dayne Sislen

I am writing his story myself. This week my writer’s critique group  associated with SCBWI gave me a lot of great suggestions to improve it. Writing is hard work.

I can’t wait to finish all the illustrations. I must work on my own work in between my real children’s book illustration jobs. With my work I can post images as I go along. Most children’s book authors, I work for, want to keep everything secret until they publish the book. Because of that, I don’t get to show everyone what I am working on.

I plan to do this illustration in loose watercolor over a charcoal or pencil drawing. I want the water to have a lot of movement. I will probably paint it digitally.

Attended SCBWI conference in St. Louis

I am so excited and empowered, I attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference today. Will Terry was the speaker for the illustrators. Will  is incredibly talented and a very good speaker. Visit his site to see some of his work: He also sells some wonderful tutorials for illustrators.

He talked about the emerging technology for e-books and story apps. It’s another tool for writers and illustrators to help get our work out to our readers in an exciting way.

I appreciate the SCBWI of Missouri for planning this wonderful conference. Thank you

Small changes for 3rd edition cover

Up-dated cover

Recently I was honored to receive a critique from the children’s book illustrator and Caldecott award winner Paul O. Zelinsky.

After I read his well thought-out comments about the cover illustration for Madeline Delilah, Extraordinarily, Ordinary, I wanted to make a few changes on the art, but the book had already been published and was actually in it’s second printing.

Old Cover

It’s nice to get a second chance in life as well as art!

I just got word from the author Mariah Richardson, that there is going to be a third printing and I can make small changes to the illustrations. I am thrilled to get a second chance.

Mr. Zelinsky made a few suggestions on the cover that I was able to make using the existing art and Photoshop to manipulate the image. He felt that the main character Madeline Delilah needed to dominate the cover. In the first illustration I was trying to emphasize the large size of the tree by making her small. In the new version I brought her to the foreground and made her slightly larger. I also beefed up the title and used a drop shadow to make the words pop out a little more. Mr. Zelinski had a few other suggestions to make the cover more exciting, but I was unable to make those changes at this time. I think it is a good up-grade that makes me feel better, but most people will not notice. Let me know what you think about the redo (leave comments by clicking the thought bubble at the top right of this post).

Please visit my Portfolio web site to see all my work:


Preliminary Sketches for Madeline Delilah

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An inside look at the process of creating  a children’s book character. When Mariah Richardson the author of “Madeline Delilah, Extraordinarily Ordinary” and I had our first meeting we discussed the main character Madeline Delilah. Mariah envisioned an African-American little girl about … Continue reading


Character Study

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I want to share a some of my preliminary drawings as well as my finished work on this site. This is an early character study of Madeline Delilah the main character in the book “Madeline Delilah, Extraordinarily Ordinary” written by Mariah Richardson. … Continue reading