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11 Beloved Illustrators Who Bring Children’s Literature to Life

 

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Nothing beats a good book—except, perhaps, one that is beautifully illustrated. While you won't find many adult reads decorated with drawings, children's books are bound to deliver, making the seemingly “kids-only” section adored by art enthusiasts of all ages.

Illustrations have the power to turn the pages of a picture book into the contents of a classic. Much like the imaginations they stoke, however, children's book illustrators cannot be put into a box. Still, there are certain artists whose witty, whimsical, or simply silly designs have come to define the genre. Here, we leaf through the colorful cast of characters created by some of the greats and browse the beloved books they've brought to life.

 

Here are 11 children's book illustrators whose work can bring out the kid in anyone.

 

Maurice Sendak

 

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“Let the wild rumpus start!”

In 1963, Brooklyn-born Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) found acclaim with Where the Wild Things Are, a fanciful tale about the adventures of a little boy named Max. Sendak, whose own childhood was marred by health issues and family deaths during the Holocaust, decided to both write and illustrate picture books in the 1950s after providing the artwork for Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series. This decision culminated in classics like Chicken Soup with Rice (1962), In the Night Kitchen (1970), and Outside Over There (1981).

 

Beatrix Potter

 

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British artist Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) wrote and illustrated 28 books inspired by the flora and fauna of the enchanting English countryside. Potter cultivated a love of nature at a young age, leading her on a path toward a career in scientific illustration. However, due to gender discrimination, this pursuit did not reach fruition. Instead, she shifted her focus to children's books, resulting in classics like The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904), The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908), and, of course, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902), one of the best-selling books of all time.

 

Dr. Seuss

 

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Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991)—better known by the pseudonym Dr. Seuss—produced some of the world's most popular children's books. Prior to penning lighthearted classics like The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Dr. Seuss was a celebrated political cartoonist and an Oscar-winning animator for the United States Army. After World War II, however, the American artist decided to revisit an earlier passion for children's books. Filled with silly rhymes and his signature surreal illustrations, Dr. Seuss' body of work proves that “from there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”

Clement Hurd

 

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American artist Clement Hurd (1908-1988) is known for his collaboration with Margaret Wise Brown, a celebrated children's author. When the pair met in New York City in 1933, Hurd was working as a commercial artist and Brown was an editor at a children's literature publishing house. They decided to combine their creative experiences and collaborate; in 1933, they completed Bumble Bugs and Elephants, a book written by Brown and illustrated by Hurd. The following decade, they created two of their most beloved books: the endearing story of The Runaway Bunny (1942) and the cozy classic, Goodnight Moon (1947).

 

Eric Carle

 

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In 1967, American artist Eric Carle burst onto the scene with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Intended for a toddler audience, this book features simple, straightforward text and colorful pictures. Made up of cut painted paper, these illustrated collages quickly came to define Carle's signature style and paved the way for what would be his most popular book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969).

How did Carle hatch such a distinctive aesthetic? “My own style grew out of my work as a graphic designer,” he explained. “I try to express the essence of my stories and ideals very clearly, using simple shapes, often in bright colors against a white background. You might almost think of my illustrations, and especially the cover art, as little posters.”

 

Arthur Rackham

 

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In the 19th century, English artist Arthur Rackham (1837-1939) magically transformed illustration with his mesmerizing works. Nestled in the pages of storybooks, his dreamy watercolor paintings and pen and ink drawings breathed life into Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), Rip Van Winkle (1905), Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1917), and other tales.

On top of crafting an original aesthetic, Rackham revolutionized the process behind book illustration. Specifically, he streamlined the historically laborious reproduction process by foregoing an engraver in favor of photography. He also harnessed the letterpress printing technique to achieve a distinctive range of delicate yet rich tones.

 

Quentin Blake

 

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With over 300 books under his belt, Quentin Blake (1932) is one of England's most accomplished illustrators. His artistic career kicked off in 1961, when he illustrated The Wonderful Button by Evan Hunter, and took a particularly whimsical turn in 1979, when he began collaborating with famed author Roald Dahl. By Dahl's death in 1990, Blake had illustrated 18 of his titles, including Matilda (1988), The BFG (1982), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), which he illustrated retroactively.

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a man of many talents. In addition to writing and illustrating books, poems, and newspaper articles, Saint-Exupéry was also a pioneering pilot. In fact, his experiences as an aviator in the French Air Force inspired his raison d'être: The Little Prince. Completed in 1943, this delightful novella follows the poignant adventures of a petit prince as he explores fanciful planets within a fictional outer space.

The book was originally published in English, as it was written when Saint-Exupéry was living in New York City. It has since been translated into 300 additional languages, however, propelling its legacy around the world.

 

E.H. Shepard

 

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E.H. Shepard's contributions to English art and culture cannot be overlooked. The London-born author and artist illustrated two of the country's most beloved children's texts: The Wind in the Willows (1908) and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Written by Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne, respectively, these books both feature anthropomorphic characters whose likenesses Shepard captures in quaint line drawings. Simultaneously sketch-like yet full of detail, these delicate drawings have helped shape Shepard's legacy as a leading children's book illustrator.

 

Richard Scarry

 

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In 1949, Richard Scarry (1919-1994) made a household name for himself when he published his first of many Little Golden Books. Soon after, the American artist and writer fabricated Busytown, a bustling city with human-like animals as residents. It is in this quaint town where many of his most well-known books—namely, his Best Ever series—are based, and where tiny readers can regularly return for a “busy” collection of lifelong lessons.

“I'm not interested in creating a book that is read once and then placed on the shelf and forgotten,” Scarry said. “I am very happy when people have worn out my books, or that they're held together by Scotch tape.”

 

Ludwig Bemelmans

 

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No artist has captured the charm of everyday life in Paris like Ludwig Bemelmans. Though trained in hospitality, the Austrian American decided to pursue illustration in the 1930s. In 1939, he completed the inaugural book in his Madeline series, which details the daily life of a curious young girl in a Parisian boarding school. In the decades that followed, six more Madeline books were published: five by Bemelmans himself, and one thirty years after his death.

Today, on top of his winsome watercolor illustrations, these books are tied together by a simple yet catchy closing line.

“That's all there is, there isn't any more.”

 

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.

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