Inspiring Young Readers
A New Generation of Children’s Book Illustrators
At the beginning of April of this year, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair takes place for four days. I’ve always thought that it sounds such a glamorous event – Bologna is a wonderful city and I’d love to go back there and if it was linked to books, what could be better? But sadly, this is not a fair for the general public but a trade event at which deals are done and new talent touted.
There’s always, understandably enough, a significant focus on children’s book illustration and illustrators during the event and it made me think about just how many fabulous new children’s illustrated books are appearing every day. I personally came to appreciate children’s books quite late in my reading life and so I still tend to think of the ‘classics’ when I reach for examples – Rackham, Robinson, Goble, Shepherd etc. – and for me, contemporary means Quentin Blake, Judith Kerr, Shirley Hughes, Raymond Briggs and all those artists who are now, distressingly, even older than I am.
However, the good news is that there are lots of new, talented young artists out there making waves in the children's book world. One of the things I like about the new generations of children’s book illustrators is that they are global – they are as likely to come from Iraq or Iran as from Surbiton. And I love the fact that they know the work of all the great illustrators that went before them, they’ve absorbed their influences, blended it with their own cultural perspectives and turned that mix into unique work that is all their own.
I also love the way that they understand that books have to compete with new technologies for their reader’s attention. The illustrations have to be special to get chosen above the lure of the digital screen and they have to provide an experience that pixels can’t compete with. And so many of them are rising to that challenge magnificently, producing accessible, conveniently bound little works of art.
Many of the new children’s illustrators are also intent on breaking the rules – using unconventional materials, producing daring designs and making the most of what the new technologies can offer when it comes to adding those necessary enhancements to their drawing.
But, I think that there’s a danger here too.
It feels to me that the use of computer graphics can also encourage a sort of laziness or plagiarism that results in what were ground-breaking or innovative styles getting pirated and endlessly reproduced in a way that lacks any integrity. It’s a sort of cashing-in, a literary version of the cheap fashion knock-off of what’s been seen on this season’s catwalk.
So you have to be discriminating and search out the truly outstanding otherwise you will be buried under an avalanche of average stuff. If, like me, you’re not a specialist in the field there is an excellent book out there to help you. Little Big Books: illustrations for children’s picture books, originally published in 2011 is a superb compendium of young children’s book illustrators from around the globe. Published by the German firm, Gestalten, the book gives you a short biography of the artist and lashings of examples of their work.
It’s a great resource to mine and you’ll go from entry to entry wanting to order them all. Beware of this book because it can severely damage your bank account!