Children’s books are often an amazing combination of words and pictures. Particularly in books for younger children, we see some truly amazing artwork in it’s own right that are used to tell a story even more effectively. And it’s a great way to engage children, getting them to point out things on the page, or asking them what colours they can see. Here we’ve come up with a list of some of our favourite illustrators. Sometimes they are actually the author as well, some have built partnerships with other authors, but all of them on the list are guaranteed to fire up the imagination.
Alison Jay has worked as an illustrator for over ten years. Her unique style is created using alkyd oil paint on paper with a crackling varnish, giving the pictures a distinctive, nostalgic quality. Alphabet uses a fairytale them to introduce very young children to letters and reading, and each page is a genuine work of art.
Julie Vivas is one of Australia’s foremost illustrators, collaborating with a number of different authors over the years. You’ll probably know her for the perennial favourite, Possum Magic, which she worked on with Mem Fox. Her distinctive watercolour style is often full of colour and movement, and brings illustrations to life on the page.
Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson have collaborated on multiple books together, and are a match made in heaven. For what would The Gruffalo be without the pictures of the creature with the terrible teeth in his terrible jaws, and the poisonous wart at the end of this nose? Axel was born in Germany, and always knew he wanted to do something with art. His first picture book with Julia was published in 1992.
For pictures that appeal to adults as much as children, you really can’t go past Shaun Tan. This Australian author and illustrator has become best known for illustrating books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery. The Lost Thing won numerous awards, and is a quirky tale about finding your place in the world.
Nick Bland always wanted to be a cartoonist and a writer, and when he started working in a bookshop, realised he could be both. Author and illustrator of a number of stories, he’s perhaps best known for the Very Cranky Bear series. His way of capturing the bear’s expressions are priceless (particularly when things go wrong – and they often do with this bear), and are sure to be a hit with young children.
We could have put a number of his books on this list, Oliver Jeffers is a pretty talented guy. Born in WA, raised in Belfast and now living in NYC, he’s exhibited his art around the world. He writes his own stories as well, and his debut was How To Catch A Star, the story of a boy who dreams hard and his wishes comes true. His tales are often magical and the illustrations are beautiful.
Quentin Blake is another illustrator (and sometimes author) that has worked with numerous people over the years, but is still best known for his work with Roald Dahl – he was Dahl’s favorite illustrator. His pictures are perfectly matched with Dahl’s hilarious words. Revolting Rhymes is the retelling of some familiar tales – “I guess you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.” The illustrations of these well-known tales will delight children.
Jeannie Baker has been making collages since 1972 – her pictures are actually photographs of the artworks, derived from many rich textures including earth, wool and feathers, among other things. Window is wordless picture book of a mother and a baby looking through a window. As the baby grows, so does the scene outside. Children and adults will get a lot out of these exquisite pictures.
For some bright and fun pictures that kids will love, you can’t go past David Wojtowycz. Often working with Giles Andreae, the two often feature animals in their work, from dinosaurs to under the sea. Rumble in the Jungle is a noisy rhyming romp packed with favourite animals, from tigers to chimpanzees, brought to life with fun, vibrant artwork.
An example of a quintessentially Australian book, its May Gibb’s The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie. First published in 1918, these stories have never been out of print. The artwork of the gumnut babies and the banksia man were the perfect companion to the magical world that was created; a delightful mix of the real and the imaginary.
Probably best known for the creation of Animalia, Graeme Base has won numerous awards for his books, which include some incredibly beautiful and meticulous artwork. The Waterhole is an ingenious infusion of counting book, puzzle book, story book and art book, with typically detailed illustrations. There are no shortage of things to spot on these pages.
Born in Tenterfield, northern New South Wales, Bronwyn Bancroft is a descendant of the Djanbun clan of the Bundjalung nation. Bronwyn is a leading Indigenous artist, illustrator and art administrator, who’s work has been displayed at numerous galleries. Shapes of Australia is amazing for it’s use Indigenous art to explore the shapes that form this land.