Thursday, July 18, 2013

Five Tips When Illustrating a Children's Chapter Book

Since I was a child, I've loved reading children's chapter books with illustrations. Illustrations add so much more to a story. And for a child who is a visual learner, like me, it really helps to have drawings that can take what the author has written and show it an understandable and expressive way.

As a writer and illustrator, I spend a lot of time reviewing my manuscript, finding scenes to illustrate that will help the reader enter the world of the story. The following is how I go about identifying and selecting what I will illustrate in my children's chapter books.

  1. Make sure there is an illustration in each chapter, even a chapter with just a few pages. This keeps uniformity. And trust me, kids will notice if a chapter is missing an illustration or if one has a lot more than another. My kids notice every little detail in the illustrations of the books they read from change of clothes to a weird look that didn't fit in the part of the story they were reading. 
    My kids vetoed the above drawing from my first Wunderkind Family book. They didn't like Jake laying down and was confused with the expression on his face for the scene. Instead we went with the below drawing.
  2. Try to have your illustrations appearing approximately the same number of pages apart. That's not easy, of course. But it is a rule that I strive for. I've found that it bothers my kids if there are a lot of illustrations clumped together and then there is a big gap until the next illustration. It's that routine that kids like. When creating a book with illustrations, the publisher (self-publisher) needs to think routine. 
  4. When identifying what to illustrate in the manuscript, look for scenes where the main character(s) are expressive, portraying strong emotion, and doing a funny action. Kids love seeing illustrations like a kid tripping and falling, a cat leaping through the air almost about to land on someones head, and a mom hugging their child.
  5. GA (pronounced Gee-Aye) from the second Wunderkind Family series
  6. Have someone review what you have selected in the manuscript to illustrate. My kids have been the best sounding board for what I should illustrate, as have their friends. I've been amazed at how each one seems to suggest a similar illustration for me to draw. The sillier the better for my boys. And with my daughter, she wants to see what everyone is wearing.
    GA's dad is taking one of her feather's away. (The Tale of the Slimy Spitball)
  8. Finally, create rough drafts and before you even start the finals, have kids, the author, an editor, the publisher, and the list goes on review them. I still find that my kids and their friends have been the best focus group for my illustrations. My illustrations are simple, but do express emotions.
Writing and illustrating is truly an art. And with art, there isn't a right or a wrong. But as a children's author and illustrator, it's important to create a piece of work for your target audience. Knowing what they like, is key. And getting their input can make a huge difference.

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  1. Awesome advise! This is something I've been thinking about a lot... "when I write my books" like I have time in the next 10 years!

    Thanks for linking up with Friendly Friday last week. It's up and running again and I'd love for you to come back and link up again!

    1. Hi CharlieBeth! Don't give up! And as soon as you have finished one of your books, I would love to read it! FYI... I started writing when my kids were infants. When they napped I wrote. Then I wrote when they played at the park and while I waited for them in the car pool lane, and in between their extra-curricular activities. I'm an on the go mommy writer and illustrator LOL. It's been the only way that I could be with them and achieve my career goals. Now my older three (they are 10, 9 and 9) actually help me with coming up with stories. It's much more fun!

    2. I wanna be an illustrator, too. So I just keep practicing and practicing until I get it right! I'm not a person who gives up!

    3. I wanna be an illustrator, too. So I just keep practicing and practicing until I get it right! I'm not a person who gives up!

  2. Both of my kids are on a reading kick right now. It helps that our library is giving away tickets to an amusement park for their summer reading program :) Great tips, it's always interesting seeing how kid's books are thought out!

  3. I think your suggestions are spot on. I am not a writer, but we read a lot of chapter books, and the ones my daughter likes the most have evenly spaced out illustrations. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Great information, especially since I am just about to push the publish button on an illustrated mystery. It was such a challenge trying to chose scenes that would be illustratable and know you kids would notice that I have a couple of chapters without illustrations LOL, For mystery, it was hard to know what to include and not to, so not to giveaway too much. Thanks for a great post

  5. Thanks for a great post Melissa. I am about to release an illustrated middle grade mystery and I have to say it was really hard to chose what to have illustrated and where to place the pictures. Thanks again for joining the Kid Lit Blog Hop

  6. Love your tips! Kids know what they like and what rings true. Thanks for sharing this on the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  7. Great tips! I have zero artistic talent, but my son loves to draw and wants to write and illustrate his own books :). It's a pleasure to connect with you on the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  8. Oh Melissa! I love your post and those are great tips. I love your illustration style as well - very recognizable. Thanks for sharing in the Kid Lit Blog Hop! :-)