Artwork in Children’s Literature
Online Music Editor, Megan Frost, discusses some of the most popular pieces of art in children’s literature.
Children’s literature is vivified by its illustrations. Often simple and sketchy, they go hand-in-hand with the tales they accompany. With regular books, readers can delve into their own imagination; we picture the world as we read it. Yet, children’s books already have illustrations brought to us, so it’s interesting why we value them so much. This is solely because they bring unity: readers across generations can share the very same images.
Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea is immensely popular. Published in 1968, it’s still well-read today and it’s not just owed to the tale. Kerr made her own illustrations, pairing them with her idea. The book follows its titular tiger who turns up at a house of a girl called Sophie. With a knock at the door, Kerr illustrates various strangers when questioning who the guest is. Before we know it, a tiger shows up at the door. Unlike the strangers, the tiger appears familiar to us. This is simply due to his beloved smile. Despite him being large and furry, his facial expression is endearing. And this is what draws us in. There is also a hint of resemblance between the tiger and Sophie’s family: they share the same eyes that somehow smile.
“Despite him being large and furry, his facial expression is endearing. And this is what draws us in.”
At times, the tiger does appear out of place, especially when clambering amidst kitchen utensils. Yet, he is playful much like Sophie who continuously peers up at him as though looking in admiration. The drawings depict a bond between the two. The tiger’s presence, which is certainly large, animates the dinner table as he towers over them. We feel this especially when he disappears. When Sophie and her parents walk down the streets we are left with the remnants of the tiger: a small cat that appears much like it, yet lost amidst the bustling streets. Weirdly, this is the most vivid scene – with such bright hues and ambience. Yet, it is here where we are left to contemplate whether the tiger was a figment of Sophie’s imagination. Nonetheless, Kerr’s illustrations seem so full of character that it doesn’t matter.
Some children’s literature illustrations are even simpler by focusing on shapes and colour. An example of this is the 1970s Meg and Mog series by Helen Nicoll. These feature three iconic characters: a witch called Meg, her cat Mog, and their friend Owl. Even though there is the potential of being haunting, much like Kerr’s tiger, Meg is illustrated as the antithesis of this; she appears gangly, awkward, and prone to making mistakes. Centring around Meg’s failed spells, the bold illustrations add to the wacky stories. Jan Pieńkowski’s illustrations bear little resemblance to Kerr’s vivid facial expressions. Instead, they are inked with figures and silhouettes. All the characters are built by outlines, particularly the striped cat, ragged clothing, and Meg’s spindly body. To make up for this is vibrant block colours in a pop-like style. Each background is a block colour that serves as a backdrop for each outline. The characters are outlines, yet their eyes are often illustrated as luminous yellow which brings a simple, yet striking, expression. By focusing on shape and colour, the series cannot overlook sound. Sounds like ‘ZZZ’ or ‘EEK’ are placed within speech bubbles. Each sound has a different font as though we can hear it coming from the pages.
“Sounds like ‘ZZZ’ or ‘EEK’ are placed within speech bubbles. Each sound has a different font as though we can hear it coming from the pages.”
Much like Kerr and Pieńkowski’s illustrations, children’s literature artwork has the ability to bring warmth and spirit out of anything. For example, they can turn something potentially frightening into something familiar; so much so that it can be shared by many readers across time.