I am so torn about whether the illustrations in children’s books need to have an overarching story in and of themselves or not. SO TORN!

Probably yes. I generally think yes. But then I go and try to tackle things with enough vagueness that they could have wide application. Wide application means multiple possible plot and development branches, which, well, is not a single overarching story framed in illustrations.

Because I’m trying to teach rather than telling a single story.

“Are you going to tell me to start over?” is my vulnerable question, both to myself and to you. Except, can’t we straight teach kiddos? Do we really need to cloak everything in a story?


Can you tell that I thought I was almost done with a project only to go back and have various internal crises about it? 🙂 Please wish me well. Prayers welcome, too, of course!


Maybe God’s Word is overarching enough. Maybe the theme and comforts are overarching enough.



I seriously think image ideas are the hardest part of children’s books.


Filed under My projects

7 Responses to Overarching?

  1. Alison Andreasen

    Could you feature multiple characters? Like a different child or family or part of world for each illustration? Or stick figures (think Marxhausen’s “Heaven is a Wonderful Place” illustrations) or just very abstract art?

  2. I’ve been thinking about this too, mostly as a parent and reader. I love the way Kloria Press’ *God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It* uses the pictures to tell a complete story (even though small children may not realize that the rapidly-aging protagonist is the same throughout the book unless an adult points this out). To me, it makes the book more powerful for all ages. Yet perhaps part of this is due not just to the overarching story, but to the fact that tremendous thought went into choosing the *right* pictures. A lot of religious children’s books can seem a little. . . lazy? forgettable? lacking in artistry?

    All of which to say, a lack of overarching visual story (if arrived at after careful thought, rather than being a default “easy” choice) may well *be* the best and most powerful use of illustrations for a given piece. But I think the bar for choosing this kind of thing needs to be a lot higher. Otherwise, a series of “unconnected” pictures can simply be an adult “explaining” a concept to a child–often in a slightly condescending way–instead of one human sharing artistry and thought with another. If that makes sense.

    Surely, though, there are ways beyond plot to thoughtfully tie something together? The seasons of the church year? The symbols found throughout a sanctuary? Anyway, there are my ramblings. 🙂

  3. Thanks for your kind words about our book, Anna. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, when we began each of our hymns (including ones still in progress), we always started thinking we would just illustrate each phrase. It’s certainly simpler to think of illustrations that way, and simpler for the artist too. But somehow, through the storyboarding process, we’ve always ended up with a storyline and characters.

    I can think of two major things a storyline (or other unifying feature) provides:
    1) It forces the book to conform to the genre. And in the case of picture books, that usually means stories, or at least coherence in time and characters. (There are also non-fiction books for children, but by and large these seem to be mass-produced for libraries rather treasured in home libraries.) So having the storyline places the book firmly in picture book territory.
    2) Although the ultimate goal may well be didactic, parents (or whoever is doing the reading) may tire of reading a book that doesn’t have this level of thought put into coherence and illustration. And if the book doesn’t have that charm to be read again and again, then the learning won’t be reinforced by repetition. Think of the early Pixar movies, which presented meaning at multiple levels; it makes them (slightly) less painful for adults to watch over and over again.

    Even if you’re not an artist, try grabbing some images off Google Images to put with each spread. Print it out and then see what it’s like to read to your own children a few times. See if they ask it to be read again. See if you tire of it. You won’t send your mockup anywhere, but that extra effort can provide valuable insights for polishing a manuscript.

    Hopefully that’s helpful in some way!

    • After thinking about it a few days, I think the answer to my ponderings is this: theology isn’t abstract. Pictures for theology can simply be those in need of that specific application. Right? At least that approach is working better for me now with this draft. (Phew!) Illustration ideas are so hard for me sometimes.

  4. Alison Andreasen

    I really appreciate this conversation as it touches on the much bigger idea of theological writing for kids. Is it more effective to write a good literary book where the reader builds a relationship with the characters and where the character’s life experiences and decisions inform their own lives just as a conversation with a good friend would, or is better to present a doctrine/idea/point and explain it in a kid friendly way? Perhaps there is a place for both. Perhaps “good” and “better” don’t have a place in this discussion. Surely the first option is a very difficult one to achieve without seeming cheesy or with an agenda, and it is sometimes safer to opt with option #2 in being straightforward and honest. Yet, as mentioned above, it may lack the “treasured home library” vibe that we associate with memorable books of childhood. I think this very topic is worthy of continued discussion as we pass on our faith to our children, honoring their humanity and desiring to continue to put books of truth, beauty, and goodness in their path.

  5. I agree, Alison. 🙂

    It’s interesting to me how “necessary” pictures have become now. I may be grumpy (ok, I AM currently grumpy) from my current struggles trying to imagine pictures, but, ya know, the original Scriptures weren’t illustrated! lol Those Scriptures were for kids, too!

    • Alison Andreasen

      Our society is definitely more visual than the oral/auditory societies of the past. And of course we have a special interest in preserving spoken/ heard words. Yet, in our quest to give an answer for the hope we have in this present age, to what extent does our rhetoric conform to the communication patterns that are used now?
      In addition to considering how much of a communicating factor illustrations have in relation to the text, I think we can also consider what they communicate about how we see children. I think children are capable of appreciating real art and I enjoy seeing that in picture books. Kirk, the illustrations in A Mighty Fortress is Our God are AMAZING for that reason!

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