Monday, January 2, 2012


by Joan Waites

One of the most frequent questions I am asked as an illustrator of children’s books is “how does an author get you to illustrate their book?” Most are very surprised to learn that for the majority of picture book projects, (but not all), the author and illustrator do not communicate and collaborate on how the illustrations should look.  The publisher contracts a manuscript from an author and then chooses an illustrator they feel would best suit the story. There are several reasons for this, but mostly because a picture book works best when each creative half is left alone to bring their own vision to the story without restrictions.  As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, the illustrator’s job is to add something more to the story that is not just a reflection of the written word.

I was recently explaining this relationship between author and illustrator to a school representative who has arranged for me to participate in an artist-in-residence program in the coming year. While we were brainstorming activities for the children to participate in while I am there, I suggested using the exercise from my Pencil Tips blog post More Story Starters. Using that idea, we came up with a plan to break the children into smaller groups, one half to be designated authors, the other half illustrators. Authors will be given the task of creating a short manuscript using the story starter prompt cards. Each designated illustrator will then have time to create the illustrations for the manuscript they have been assigned.  Then the group will switch roles so each child gets a turn to be an author or illustrator for the day.

When complete, students will share their books with the group. Some sample questions to ask are:

Are the illustrations successful for this manuscript?

Do they add something new and exciting to the story?

Do the characters come to life in the illustrations?

Do we get a better sense of place and time when looking at the illustrations?

Is the author happy with the way their story has been illustrated?

Is there a way the story could be edited to allow for more exciting illustration opportunities?

Since I'm trying this exercise for this first time, I am excited to see what the students will produce. I’ll be sure to report back in a future blog post!

Wishing all our readers a very happy, healthy, and productive New Year!


  1. Excellent activity, Joan. I'm sure the students will have fun, fun, fun and learn at the same time.

  2. Great idea, Joan! I'd love to hear how this works out.

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