How Much Food Can A 12 Year Old Boy Hold How to Choose a Children’s Book, Part 4 – Attractive Illustrations

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How to Choose a Children’s Book, Part 4 – Attractive Illustrations

This is the fourth in a series of articles on how to choose a children’s book. Last time, I talked about how to choose books with themes that will appeal to children. In this article I’ll discuss the role of book illustrations in making a book appealing to a child, and I’ll try to give you some pointers on what to look for in children’s book illustrations. However, I should say up front that there is a lot of room for difference of opinion about what makes attractive book illustrations, so take my guidance as a “for the most part” request; there will be many exceptions, due to a certain subjectivity inherent in any aesthetic judgment.

My central point: The illustrations in a book are perhaps the biggest part of what makes a book attractive to children, especially those under eight. In fact, recently when I was rereading Hello, Cat! preparing to write an author focus on Ezra Jack Keats, the images of mint green ice cream on Archie’s dark face and Peter’s dog Willie licking the ice cream came as vivid memories of my own childhood My parents had read the book to me when I was little and I still remember the pictures over 30 years later! I have had similar experiences while reading In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak to my children. The point is that attractive illustrations are almost always what focus a young child’s interest and attention on a book, often in a surprisingly lasting way! Without strong illustrations, young children can lose interest in a book, even if the story is great.

Now, some guidance. In my opinion, there is no deep mystery when it comes to choosing books with illustrations that are attractive to children: in general, if you think the illustrations are attractive and interesting to look at, a child will too . For example, children and adults alike will delight in Jerry Pinkney’s delightful illustrations in The Lion and the Mouse. However, there will be some exceptions. For example, many children will not enjoy particularly dark, scary, or abstract illustrations, so if you are an adult with these aesthetic tastes, you should consider this difference in taste when choosing children’s books.

Like the themes of a book, illustrations with content that connects to a child’s experience and interests will have a better chance of making a book enjoyable. This criterion will not be difficult to meet, however, since if you find a book with suitable themes, the content of the illustrations will likely be the theme anyway (see my previous article on choosing books with attractive themes for more details here).

Children in the toddler to 2-year-old age category are likely to respond better to simpler, concrete illustrations than to very complicated or fantastic illustrations. Bold, eye-catching colors also tend to be particularly attractive to young children. Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury is a book with illustrations that embody these characteristics of simplicity, concreteness and bold colours, making it a particularly good example of illustrations suitable for young children. At best, illustrations with a lot of complexity and wild imagery will be lost on a young child; at worst, these illustrations can make you lose interest in the book.

However, slightly older children – in the 3 to 5 and 6 to 8 age categories – respond very well to complex, detailed and fancier illustrations. For example, my sons (who are now six and eight) love Graeme Base’s books mostly because of the intricate and detailed illustrations. In Animalia, Base packs her amazing illustrations with objects and details that my kids love to hunt for; on some occasions we have spent hours at a time combing through his beautiful and detailed artwork.

Finally, while illustrations become less important as children get older, for example a good story alone might hold a 9-12 year old, illustrations can still help tell a story or illuminate the contents of a book for an older child. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is an example of a book for children ages 9-12 and up that makes tremendous effective use of illustrations. Half novel, half silent film, there are stretches of the book where Selznick uses only haunting black-and-white illustrations to tell the gripping story. The resulting effect is lovely.

In the next article in this series, I will continue to discuss the particular factors that contribute to the subjective appeal of a book, that is, the considerations that make a book attractive to a child, assuming the role that a good story in drawing children to a book and how adults can identify books with compelling stories.

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