Picture book creators

Berenstain BearsAltogether, Margaret and Hans Augusto Rey created seven Curious George books, with Hans mainly doing the illustrations and Margaret mainly writing the stories, though they shared all the work and cooperated fully throughout. There are quite a few other coupled picture book creators, such as Stanley Berenstain and Janice Grant who created the Berenstain Bears books (which, for some reason, everyone remembers as the Berenstein Bears books); Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, author and illustrator of the Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee; and Audrey Wood and Don Wood, who authored and illustrated many books both separately and together, including one of my daughter’s favorites, The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear.

The deeply intertwined nature of these couples’ collaborations stands in sharp contrast to the manner in which many picture books are created: an author writes a manuscript; a publisher matches the manuscript with an illustrator; the illustrator illustrates the story. Authors and illustrators rarely communicate throughout this process, and sometimes authors do not see the illustrations until the book is complete. I had always thought this to be unfortunate in that it doesn’t take advantage of the synergy that could take place between two creative individuals, but then I spoke to a picture book author about it and she suggested that a separation between the author and illustrator actually allows for more creativity because the illustrator can interpret the story without the author’s preconceived notions.

Two picture books that I very much love are by authors who happen also to be novelists: Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen and Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo Both of these books have strong characters and far reaching story arcs, and their illustrations are by great picture book artists: Matt Phelan and Harry Bliss (who is a New Yorker cartoonist as well). Also in both, the words could stand on their own, as could the illustrations. In the case of these books, words and pictures work together in perfect tandem, but they are not dependent on one another.

Then there is the category of picture book collaboration that happens within one person. Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jonathan Bean, Akiko Miyakoshi, and Marianne Dubuc, are all author/illustrators whom I’ve written about on ‘Books with Pictures and Words.’ In these author/illustrators’ works, the words and pictures are so wholly intertwined, they rely on each other in a way that could only come from one mind.

When reading picture books, it’s interesting to notice the relationship between the words and pictures: how intertwined they are; how they complement each other; and their reliance on one another. Through an informal, but wide reading, my suspicion is that these different relationships correlate to the creators of the books – be that one person or two, married or not.  

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