Authors and Illustrators v Author-Illustrators

Monday 3 October

If someone asked you to name your favourite picture books, without referring to your bookshelves, I wonder which books you would choose?

And what would your choices reveal?

As a picture book obsessive, I have hundreds at home but believe the books which stand the test of time and go on to become the classics of tomorrow are those which spring to mind immediately, without sneaky peeks at our book piles.

Those books we remember instantly are the books which have registered in our subconscious.

It’s these books which have ignited an inextinguishable spark, just like the words to unforgettable songs when the lyrics mesh beautifully with the melodies.

Picture books are a wonderful marriage of narrative and image when they work properly. Both support and enhance each other.

Equally, there are picture books where narratives have been ruined by less-than-ideal illustrations and where wonderful illustrations have saved less-than-worthy texts.

When I decided to try and name my top ten favourite picture books, which rose to 12 instantly, I was surprised that all were in rhyme.

Rhyme Above Prose

While publishers can be reluctant to publish rhyming books, due to the difficulties of selling co-editions, they are often favoured by parents and children who enjoy the easy sing-song rhythm and flow of these books, when properly rhymed.

It took me no time at all to reel off this list, unlike my top 12 in prose which took longer to remember.

I can only guess the rhyming books were easier to recall because rhythm is deeply ingrained in our nature and hard-wired into being human. When young children hear music, most dance, nod their heads or sway their bodies in time with it.

The 12 I chose in prose took longer to think of but are nonetheless well-thumbed treasured possessions which have enriched our family life with humour, warmth and heart.

When comparing the ratio of author and illustrator books to author-illustrated books, I was pleased to see two thirds (66%) of my choices were collaborative efforts between storyteller and illustrator.

Yet within the publishing industry, amongst agents and publishers, there appears to be an increasing tendency to favour author-illustrators.

The rise of author-illustrators

I can only surmise this is due to economics and ease of working with one ‘creative’ rather than two.

But the fact that my own list is 66 per cent weighted in favour of individual authors and illustrators, demonstrates that people who are good at writing are fundamental to producing great stories.

People who are good at illustrating are the lynchpins of visual narrative interpretation. Illustrators bring little those little black squiggles of alphabet characters to life with glorious colour and imagination.

There are, of course, talented author-illustrators as my lists testify, but the industry creep towards actively seeking them over and above individual authors and illustrators does the picture book market a disservice, in my opinion.

Strong storylines and clever writing coupled with jaw-dropping illustrations will for me, at least, always win over beautifully-illustrated picture books with weak narratives – of which there are depressingly many.

I leave you with my own lists and wonder how others compare?

Do I buck the trend in favouring author and illustrator collaborations ahead of author-illustrator texts or do most people, like me, have a list which is predominantly author and illustrator led?

Feel free to comment and, as always, happy reading.

Top 12 in rhyme, in no particular order.

Zog                                                            Donaldson & Scheffler

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book        Donaldson & Scheffler

Room on the Broom                             Donaldson & Scheffler

Giraffes Can’t Dance                            Andreae & Parker-Rees

Sir Scallywag and the Deadly Dragon Poo    Andreae & Paul

Slinky Malinki                                        Dodd

Fix-It Duck                                               Alborough

Where’s My Teddy?                                Alborough

I’m Sure I Saw a Dinosaur                    Willis & Reynolds

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Cat Burglar Corderoy & Lenton

Abracazebra                                              H. Docherty & T. Docherty

The Snatchabook                                    H. Docherty & T. Docherty


Top 12 in prose, in no particular order.

Winnie the Witch                                      Thomas & Paul

Happy Birthday Winnie                           Thomas & Paul

A House in the Woods                              Moore

Six Dinner Sid                                             Moore

Pigs Might Fly                                             Emmett & Cox

The Santa Trap                                            Emmett & Bernatene

Burglar Bill                                                   A. Ahlberg & J. Ahlberg

Mr Pusskins: A Love Story                      Lloyd

You Must Bring a Hat                               Philip & Hindley

Mr Wolf’s Pancakes                                  Fearnley

Five Minutes’ Peace                                  Murphy

The Snorgh and the Sailor                      Buckingham & Docherty