Connecting with a young audience.
While almost any art style can appear in a successful children’s book, a connection to the characters and easy-to-follow visual storytelling can make a big difference for readers. It’s difficult for any audience — including kids — to relate to a generic protagonist.
“Kids need to get attached to something in the book,” artist and writer Scoot McMahon says. “They get excited to see elements that repeat when they turn the page.”
A cat that causes mischief is a reality, but a cat that causes mischief and wears boots is the beginning of something more memorable. And without thousands of words to delve into a character’s backstory, readers are more likely to connect to a visually unique character.
“You want characters to have that extra little touch — whether it’s really vibrant hair or extremely rosy cheeks,” children’s illustrator Alyssa Newman says. “They need that one extra thing to help them to stand out.”
Thinking about your art as a function of the story can help to determine where to focus your efforts. A main character that emotes in a way a kid can relate to is a better reader-connection device than perfectly rendering every leaf on a tree in the background. Beyond your research into current kid lit, think about the books you remember most from childhood. Is it the rendering of the art you remember or the happiness on the silly face of the lead character dancing with his friends?
“You want characters to have that extra little touch — whether it’s really vibrant hair or extremely rosy cheeks. They need that one extra thing to help them to stand out.”
For more insights, watch a few children’s book illustrators in action as they walk through their process: