Children's Books: How Illustrations Make a Timeless Classic

Learn how you too can create a timeless classic with the help of customizable illustrations.

Jay Perlman

When you were a child, what were some of your favorite things? It's a safe guess that you probably had a favorite stuffed animal named something like Teddy, or perhaps a dirty blanket that you dragged everywhere and anywhere. It would also be a sure bet that you have a favorite children's book that you probably still love to this day!

That's because a quality children's book is a treasured genre. They have the power to instill wonderful life lessons in kiddos, while also opening the imagination of people of all ages.

Of course, making a magical piece of little-person literature is not quite as easy as it looks, especially if you don't have a ton of experience drawing. Crafting the narrative takes a particular skill (one that we won't necessarily cover today), but creating the visuals that will touch the hearts of kids definitely is no cakewalk either.

Children’s book featuring coffee mug and light bulb illustrations from the Blush collection Amigos
Delighting young readers with Amigos doodles.

Don't worry though! Even for those of you who are still improving the artistic side of your creative skill set,  there are some tips and tricks that you can use to bring your story to life in the most beautiful way possible.

Let's take a look at how anyone with a story can turn it into a stunning masterpiece that even parents will want to read over and over again.

Steps to Starting Your Story

So you have your timeless classic written out, and all that's missing is the visual representation to go along with it. If you've made it this far, you're right around the corner from finishing up your masterpiece. Let's take a look at how you can start illustrating your tale into bookstores across the world (who knows?! It could happen!)

1. Know your audience!

It almost sounds silly to say that, but children's books are not just clumped into one category. No way, compadres! Here are the main categories of young people books you'll need to be aware of before you dive into illustrating your story:

  • Board books (ages 0-3)
  • Picture books (ages 4 - 8)
  • Young readers books (ages 8-12)
  • Chapter books (ages 12-18)
Cover of the book The Adventures of Manuela by Joanna Lee featuring Miroodles illustrations
The Adventures of Manuela featuring Miroodles doodles

Depending on the age of your audience, your story may be completely based on the visuals, or have little to no visual aspect at all (like most chapter books, for example). Additionally, understanding which category of young readers you're creating for will allow you to start planning out the visual roadmap of your story.

2. Get Inspiration for your illustrations

Now that you the age you're illustrating for, you should start gathering as much inspiration as possible. This is one of the most fun parts of a children's book project, because you get to explore your own creative imagination!

Cover and spine of Mollie An Adventurous Cat featuring Cool Kids illustrations
Cover and spine art made with Cool Kids illustrations

A great way to form your characters and scenes is by gathering inspiration from other children's books. This will show you what kind of illustrations other authors are using, and how they use doodles to communicate their message to young readers.

Another fun way to uncover ideas is simply to get outside! Many artists will draw inspiration from activities like people watching, hiking in nature, or even going to the zoo!

If you're not into heading outdoors just yet, there's still plenty of places online to collect quality ideas. Pinterest, Instagram, Dribbble, and Figma will all have a variety of projects that can help illuminate your creative path.

3. Select your illustration style

Choosing illustrations for your children's book is a defining moment for your project. So what are the best ways to choose the best style of illustrations? One of them is by getting feedback from your audience!

Asking children which illustrations they like the best is a great way to get opinions directly from your target audience. You'll be able to gauge what they think of the style you've chosen and reveal to you what captures the children's attention and what doesn't.

In addition to getting feedback, there are some other key elements you should consider before choosing:

  • Inclusiveness of illustrations
  • Number of colors (more on this later)
  • Age appropriateness
  • Customizability
Brightly colored cover of the book Mary and Louis: Two friends, two worlds.  Made with doodles from the collection Amigos
Mary and Louis made with Amigos illustrations

Of course, you want your illustrations to address children from all cultures and backgrounds, and age appropriateness should always be on your mind. You'll also be using your illustrations in a variety of poses and different scenes, so you'll want customizability with your doodles.

4. Storyboards and thumbnails

Now that you have the perfect illustrations selected, it's time to start creating your visual storyboard. Storyboards are key for giving you a wider scope of what your tale will look like once everything is completed.

Hand-drawn storyboard and thumbails from The Squirrels who Squabbled
Thumbnails from The Squirrels who Squabbled

Each little square is called a thumbnail, which gives a sense of movement and flow from one page to the next.

An easy way to create your thumbnails is with the Figma plugin. This is the ideal canvas to create as many thumbnails and storyboard drafts as you need in order to get closer to the final version.

5. Formatting and printing

So now that you have your storyboard laid out, it's time to select physical dimensions or trim size of your book. Normally, there are three main trim sizes for publishing children's books:

  • 7.5 inches x 7.5 inches
  • 7 inches x 10 inches
  • 10 inches x 8 inches

If you care about the amount you spend on this project, choosing a trim size is very important, as it will be one of the main factors in determining the overall cost. The more pages you choose to print, and the more colors you choose to include, the higher the cost will be.

6. Your cover is crucial!

There's a growing demand for children's books, which means making a better first impression than your competition is an important part of your book's success.

You'll want the cover to represent your story, while also intriguing potential customers enough to buy it. To get a full understanding of how to design the best book cover possible, you'll want to read through this.

Here are some great examples of children's books that have been successful and have amazing cover design:

Adorable illustrations by Felicia Bond for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is one of the most popular children's books of all time, and it has one of the sweetest covers to go along with the charming story.

Cover art from The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright
Grumpy but fun illustrations of these two adorable characters in The Squirrels Who Squabbled.

It only takes a split second to see that the Squirrels who Squabbled is a hit with kids (and probably most parents, too). Paired with the ultra-important message about teamwork are absolutely darling illustrations and loveably-angry characters, which will make this modern masterpiece of children's literature an instant classic.

Variations of cover art from the children’s book Pete the Cat by Kimberly and James Dean.
Variety of cover art from a fan favorite Pete the Cat.

Pete the Cat is a newer example of a children's book, but is just as delightful and fun as the classics. From cover to cover, this silly little feline and his adventures is a visual gem for readers of all ages.

The stunning cover of Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry.
Parker Looks Up is full of beautiful illustrations and important messages!

A modern message about the power of art and inclusivity, Parker Looks Up is more than just a fun children's story, but also an important lesson that should be taught to kids at a young age. Paired with relatable yet gorgeous illustrations of Brittany Jackson, you can bet on this book being one for the ages.

Adorable animal illustrations on the sweet cover of The Poky Little Puppy.
The iconic Poky Little Puppy illustrations are beloved by many.

The Poky Little Puppy is straight-up adorable, and its cover invites everyone to see what kind of shenanigans this little puppy dog is about to get up to!

The cover art of the classic Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown illustrated by Clement Hurd.
Dreamy and soothing doodles help make Goodnight Moon a fan favorite.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown has a cover that is descriptive, pleasing, and also intriguing. There's nothing super fancy about this cover, but it managed to turn this soothing story into a life-long favorite for many.

Make Some Fun for All Ages

Even if you don't make it onto a best-sellers list, creating and illustrating a children's book is a valuable experience that you will carry with you. Plus, a well-crafted story with lovable doodles  can be life-changing for a young reader.

Are you a fan of children's books? Have you made one in the past? There is nothing we'd like to see more than your work! Tweet us so we can show the world your talent!

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