Do you remember your favourite picture book from childhood? What are the books your children or grandchildren clamour for you to read to them now? Now imagine you took all the pictures away, would those books be just the same?
Of course not. Children love looking at the pictures. They love dressing up to look like characters they see in books. And yet, a blog or news story might show a photograph of a child in an iconic character costume and mention the writer but not the illustrator, who co-created the much loved image. What could be wrong with this?
A lot, say illustrators. What if the books are beloved as much for the illustrator’s pictures as they are for the writer’s words? By cutting out any mentions of the illustrators, we’re losing something very important.
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Firstly, children lose a hero. Not all youngsters come to stories and books through words. If you put blank paper in front of children and tell them to "write a story", many of them will panic.
But when I visit schools and walk them through the steps of drawing their own character, it looks back at them off the page. Suddenly their character is ALIVE!
They start thinking about its personality, what kind of food it likes, if it has any friends. Then stories come bubbling out of them and the paper is there to catch the words that come tumbling out.
Children who don’t immediately love books may meet an illustrator and be inspired to create their own books. But if they don’t even know illustrating is a real job, this can’t happen. I find many kids have no idea how the pictures come about, in the same way city kids might think eggs comes from the supermarket or milk from a bottle.
Secondly, we lose our illustrators. Times have changed in publishing. Everything is about "branding" and "name recognition". If people don’t know the name of an illustrator, they won’t ask for their books. Television crews will only invite the writer to speak on telly, even if they spend half the time oo’ing and ah’ing over the book’s pictures.
Schools won’t think to ask illustrators to visit, and many writers and illustrators supplement small incomes with the fees they earn for visiting schools and inspiring children.
Margins are tight; if top illustrators can’t earn a living, we’ll lose some of our best talent. The books you read to your children won’t be as good as they could be.
Thirdly, we lose diversity in our books. It can take years, even a decade, to earn enough money in illustration to live on. By forgetting to mention illustrators, we make that career path take even longer; that limits the job to people who have family money or an earning partner to sustain them through the first hard years, and to those who can afford to live near London publishing houses.
That’s not right; we and our children need to encounter stories and pictures created by people who live in the furthest reaches of Scotland, from people who aren’t well off, from single people, from people from non-white backgrounds.
Simply remembering to credit illustrators may seem like a stretch in trying to achieve this, but it plays its part.
Last year I decided I had to do something. I talked with talented illustrator colleagues who were working flat-out, dirt-poor, at breaking point. They were wondering if they could keep their jobs when everyone seemed to be against them. I thought, this is nuts.
People think very fondly of illustrated books and they wouldn’t want to see these people crushed! So I set up a Twitter campaign called #PicturesMeanBusiness, to get illustrators properly credited by teachers, reviewers, the media.
Even when you’re reading to kids, it can help us if you point out the names of both the people who created the book in your hands, give your child a little insight into who created that story told in both words and pictures. Find out how you can help at www.picturesmeanbusiness.com.
Author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre is currently touring with The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour sponsored by Scottish Friendly Assurance and organised by the Scottish Book Trust.