Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Illustrating the Chapter Book vs. the Picture Book

Picture books are full of color, action, and interest.  Chapter books are full of images for the mind, fewer illustrations, and less color. Even with these differences, there are striking similarities in illustrating a chapter book and a picture book.  The most successful picture books and chapter books will keep the readers interested, amused, and entertained.

Attitude is important when approaching the chapter book illustration assignment.
Be prepared to read carefully and perhaps more than once per chapter.
Just as the picture book requires careful study to find the key points to illustrate, the chapter book is begging for careful study.

The approach to illustrating a chapter book is quite different from illustrating a picture book.  To most the difference is fairly obvious.  Picture books contain large illustrations in full color.  Chapter books, while they may have a colorful cover, are normally illustrated in black and white.

Some situations call for more drama in the illsutrations.  Darker tones and
a somber mood are conveyed with strong darks and lights.
The way an illustrator approaches these two types of books can be as different from one another as color is from black and white.  There is certainly a great deal of thinking that goes into planning a picture book.  Illustrations need to be carefully spaced within the story.  A picture book may have 16 to 24 or more full color illustrations. The artist needs to find the perfect balance between the illustrations, the story, and the page count.  Storyboards are extremely useful in planning the pace of the illustrations and the pacing of the text from page to page.  Illustrations normally flow from left to right to keep the reader engaged in turning the page.

At times chapter books may contain only 8 to 10 black and white illustrations. Although it is possible that some  may be filled with illustrations, the books themselves will be a smaller size.  The key point needs to be transmitted with less real estate and significant impact.

The intended age group needs to be considered when illustrating a chapter book.
Chapter books are intended for the older child who wants to read in depth. Even though most will have a full color cover, they may only have black and white chapter head illustrations. The illustrator needs to read the book in its entirety and perhaps more than once. For each chapter a main idea needs to be sorted out for that one chapter head illustration.  There are chapter books with full color interior illustrations, but the majority will only have either a full page chapter head illustration or something smaller in black and white or gray tones.

Chapter book illustrations are hints, previews, or perhaps a tease as to what will happen in that chapter.  The artist needs to be clever enough not to give away too much and yet dig deep into each chapter to find that one idea that will spark interest and lead the reader onward.
The illustrations in a chapter book are hints and previews for
what is about to occur.

Have you ever thumbed through the pages of a chapter book looking at those illustrations to see what might be coming in a new chapter?  Those key illustrations are the hints I mentioned.  They should be interesting enough to keep the reader turning page after page to find out what is going to happen next.  Another key factor is that they should be as exact a translation of the key point as possible.  Read for the details. Does the heroine have a cat AND a dog in bed?  Are the windows in the house all broken, closed, open, filled with light?  Did the man in the chapter wear a watch?  Did the woman at the library try to hide something behind her back?  Details are extremely important.

Peaceful situations may call for more traditional
 illustrations and a bit of gray tone.
Style is important as well.  A mystery may demand heavier line work and more contrast between the positive and negative space.  Angles may be sharper.  Orientation may be dynamic.   A fantasy may require a completely different style as would science fiction or full out humor.

Knowing the material in a manuscript that could number as much as 300 pages or more is essential.  While you read you could take notes about illustrations that are popping into your head and demanding to be created.  Do a little brainstorming with yourself and a sketch pad. See where the most interesting points lie in each chapter.
Just plain humor may require quick strokes and dancing lines.

 If you are planning to illustrate a chapter book, especially if it is your first attempt, go to the bookstore or library and take a look at as many as you can.  Once you get a feel for the design, see what it is that you like or dislike about the way the illustrations are presented and how well they move the reader through the story. Then tackle the chapter book you have been assigned. Read it over several times.  Find the key to each chapter and let the illustrations you create unlock chapter after chapter for the eager reader.


  1. I can't believe I promoted this article and then didn't leave a comment.

    Another great article, Ginger. I'm so glad you're on our staff.


  2. I can't decide what I like better, your picture book illos or your chapter books ... lol.

  3. Great post, Ginger. I tried to comment yesterday, but Blogger didn't seem to know who I was. Story of my life these days!

    My boys read chapter books now and really love it when there are illustrations, even if it's just a few here and there. They also like seeing them when I read a story to them.

    I'm hoping my MG novels with 4RV can have a few illos at least. We'll see ...


  4. I always loved the illustrations in chapter books. Even it was a history book or historical fiction. I remember reading about Cortez and other explorers and loving the dramatic black and white illustrations. They took up whole pages and had so much drama.

    I also a a big fan of the" Invention of Hugo Cabret." If your boys have not read it, it is a fantastic treat for the eyes and mind. The book reads more like a black and white silent movie with twists and turns and amazing artwork by Brian Selznick.

    Next on my list would be the"Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket with illustrations that invite inspection and detection. I kept going back to the illustrations as I read the book... they had so much information that added to the enjoyment of the read.

  5. Ginger,
    This was lovely as well as interesting.

    Linda A.