Three Outstanding Children’s Book Illustrators
by Lori Ragsdale
The illustrators featured in this issue are three of my favorites. I have used their books in my classrooms and library story times with great success. I hope you enjoy these illustrators as much as I do.
I love the fact that Ezra Jack Keats came from a background like my mother’sa poor Jewish child of immigrant parentsand became so successful. His colorful illustrations and simple storylines are easily understood even by young children.
Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations have moved me to tears. His heart and emotion come through in his characters. I love his colorful, realistic illustrations.
Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations put me off a little at first because I like colorful illustrations, while his are black and white. However, the more of his books I read, the more I admire his imagination and the detail he uses to bring his characters to life.
Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This classic about a little boy who wakes up to a grand snowfall won the 1963 Caldecott Award. The simple illustrations in watercolor, cut-out, and collage match the child’s simple snow adventures: making snow angels, trying to save a snowball for the next day. Keats is considered a trailblazer because he was the first illustrator to feature an African-American child as the main character.
Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats
Children who have younger siblings will relate to Peter, whose crib and toys are being passed down to his baby sister. Keats’ familiar style is apparent throughout this story of the little boy who eventually comes to terms with his new position as big brother in the family.
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
Poor Peter! His big dream is to be able to whistle for his dog. This story is another in a series of seven featuring Peter as the main character. Keats again uses colorful collage and watercolors to tell his story. Children who cannot yet whistle (and those of us adults who still can’t) will cheer Peter on as he reaches his goal.
Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales by Julius Lester
Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney together bring out the personalities of Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, and the other animals in this updated version of the classic tales collected by Joel Chandler Harris. Though some modern amenities such as a shopping mall are included, the true essence of these famous stories is preserved for modern-day readers. Pinkney’s black-and-white and color illustrations depict the stories so vividly and humorously that they bring the characters to life.
John Henry by Julius Lester
Pinckney’s illustrations for this book won a Caldecott Honor in 1995. Lester’s storytelling is warm and humorous. The reader will immediately connect with John Henry and cheer him on as he uses his sledgehammer to beat the steam drill. Pinkney uses pencil and muted watercolor tones to show magnificent landscapes, a rainbow, and John Henry himself.
God Bless the Child by Billie Holliday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.
Billie Holiday’s famous song comes to life with Jerry Pinkney’s warm, detailed illustrations of an African-American family’s migration to the North in the 1930s. The words and illustrations draw even young audiences into the family’s anxiety and hope as they make the move toward a better life. The enclosed CD of Lady Day’s performance of the song makes a memorable presentation when played in conjunction with the story.
Chris Van Allsburg
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This Caldecott Award-winning book is one of Van Allsburg’s most popular. On Christmas Eve, everyone is asleep except a little boy who is waiting for a train, the Polar Express, to take him to the North Pole. Van Allsburg uses muted colors and sparse scenes so that readers can rely on their imaginations to fill in their own details of this magical trip to meet Santa. Van Allsburg’s use of perspective, shadow, and light inspire readers to take this journey with the young boy.
Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Another of Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Award-winning books, Jumanji tells the story of two children, Peter and Judy, whose board game comes to life. As the children play, each jungle adventure on the game board produces the real creatures and events. The surreal illustrations are done in Conté pencil and pencil dust, which produce the gray tones. Characters and adventures are shown from different perspectives so readers can view the details of the objects as if they were taking part in the story. See this issue’s Bibliography for the sequel, Zathura.
The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg
Alphabet letters mysteriously transform in this 26-act "play" by Van Allsburg. Each letter does its act on a stage, changing into the disastrous event depicted by the letterA for avalanche, B for badly bitten, and so on. Conté pencil again produces rich shading, texture, and realism in the illustrations. Readers of all ages will enjoy using their imaginations to enjoy this book.