By Ángela Padrón
Throughout history, children’s books have played an important role in helping children learn to read. Books stimulate young minds, develop imagination, and spark an interest in reading and learning. What makes children’s books unique, however, is not just the words, but also the pictures that accompany the stories. The illustrations and the text of children’s books go hand in hand to make a story come to life.
Initially, illustrations were included in books just for decoration. Most of those books told fables or were geared toward teaching children about religion. Illustrations were in black and white and were mostly created using wood cut designs and images. Other techniques soon emerged, such as engravings, etchings, or lithographs. Randolph Caldecott changed everything in the mid-1800s, however, when he created images that worked in conjunction with the words to tell the story. The “Golden Age” of picture books occurred in the early part of the twentieth century with a new group of innovative illustrators using different techniques and color on pages. Soon classic stories such as Curious George, Peter Rabbit, and Babar, would change the style and type of picture books being published for children.
Traditional children’s book illustrators used watercolor with ink or pencil. Today’s artists use different techniques to illustrate books, however. Some are pop-up or novelty books. Others have more of a graphic design or geometric look to them. Many books are simplified with white pages and some color elements on the page, while other artists use paint, pastels, or other media to fill the page spreads with images. Many artists today use digital techniques to create incredible illustrations. Some even incorporate different text fonts in the illustrations as an additional visual medium to attract readers to their books and to make the books more interesting to read. Several printed books are also turned into apps for tablets and iPads to make the story more interactive for young children. Some stories, in fact, barely have any words at all. Others are told solely through visual imagery. Wordless books, for example, contain no words, but still provide a picturesque sequence of events that allow children to follow and comprehend a story. In addition, artists often add to the story by including hidden elements or stories in the pictures that expand the text even further.
Book illustrations are an essential part of the storytelling process. Many children are visual learners and use the illustrations to find clues that will help them read the words and understand the story. This is essential for students who are first learning to read as well as those learning English, as English language learners build vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency by using the images to help connect content and meaning. Whether a child is reading independently or having a story read to them, book illustrations help children learn, imagine, and stay engaged.