World Building with Your Picture Book Illustrator


By Margaret Welwood

People have many kind things to say about the happy little girl who works and plays with her forest friends until… and also about the library-loving rabbit who takes matters into his own hands when his favorite place closes for inventory. But let me be the first to admit—it’s not the stories that snag them first—it’s the art.

Potential customers flip through the pages, commenting on their beauty while skimming through the stories.

First Things First

I found Coralie by visiting our local cultural center. She’d drawn a bunny that had just the “Franklin the Turtle meets the Berenstain Bears” look I wanted.

A friend I’m working with found Nataly online, and her drawings of animals had that same gentle quality.

Cover Story

I tested three covers for Marie and Mr. Bee. Friends, family, social media connections, children at an after school care center, retailers, and library staff all provided interesting reasons for their choices.

The clear winner was the one you see here:

However, both a children’s librarian and a bookstore manager preferred the cover with Marie and Mr. Bee playing a board game (from page 23 of the story).

For Little Bunny’s Own Storybook, Nataly kindly went ahead with my first suggestion for a cover. However, my formatter agreed with me that it was boring; perhaps you will as well.

We went with this one instead, and it’s proving popular with librarians, teachers, parents and children.

Working Together

I once had a boss who believed the best way to run an organization was to hire good people and let them fly—and I have been blessed with two high fliers.

The game board picture favored by the children’s librarian and bookstore manager is a case in point. I wanted Marie and Mr. Bee to be working and playing together, and my advice to Coralie was “Go wild.” Coralie googled “bee games” and found “Busy Bee” and “Lazy Bee,” but no “Helper Bee”—and decided that it was probably safe. Not only was it safe, but also exquisitely appropriate in light of the Happily Ever After ending.

My original idea for a cover picture—Marie and her forest friends playing tag around the old oak tree—would have been “too busy” in this wise artist’s opinion. Please see World Building for a Little Girl for more of Coralie’s contributions to both the art and the storyline.

Little Bunny’s Own Storybook is awash with lush green, den brown, carrots, and more carrots. I marvel at Nataly’s creativity and sense of humor, and how green and orange go so well together!

Takeaway Points

Keep looking until you find an artist who can portray your characters the way you want them portrayed. Then give some latitude with the action. Be generous and specific with your requirements, but also realize that your artist will see many possibilities that you won’t—and they will also know whether your ideas will work.

Enlist friends, family, and others for help with your cover, and perhaps with other elements as well. People in your target market are a gold mine. I discovered that with my first book, Scissortown. My son had designed a unique scissors border around the cover picture. I was seriously considering it until several respondents commented that children would see it as an invitation to cut the book!

As a self-published author, you have a unique opportunity to work with your illustrator. As you choose the “right” illustrator –one who not only has the look you want but will also listen to your ideas and contribute their own—you, too, will have a book that draws people to your table and keeps you reaching for your autographing pen!

Author Bio

“Grandma, can you tell me a story?” This polite request from her granddaughter, soon echoed by her slightly younger grandson, helped to catapult Margaret from the world of adult non-fiction writing and editing right into Children’s Storyland. She now writes and reviews picture books for children, and edits both children’s picture books and adult non-fiction. Find out more about Margaret’s books at and her Amazon Author Page.



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