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“…Make it a better book.”

So what does this lullaby have to do with the art of  children’s book illustration?
I knew you’d ask, so I’ve come up with a list.

The artist is prominent musician Olga Kishkina of  Finland. Her instrument is the gusli, a sort of  Russian cousin to the zither.

“Her expression at the end is like a gangsta rapper, daring you to step up and challenge her skillz,” notes a fan on the YouTube page.

The list:  artistry. dedication, pride in craft, building upon on a simple theme,  throwing yourself into the expression of a passage, letting the music ( form) speak for itself.

Plenty of parallels to the illustration process here.

Working your art is developing your character.

You know that at some point, your attitude about your process will be tested.
You’ll have to patiently push through and not make a big deal about it.

Texas children’s author Janice Shefelman quoted Pablo Picasso on Facebook the other day. The quote was something like: “Inspiration will pay you a visit, but it wants to find you at work.”

So here is another video.  Caldecott Medal winning illustrator Ed Young talks about the time he lost the package of his completed illustrations just before he was to send them in to his publisher. (Read my interview with Young about it  here.)

They were due in a couple of weeks, his finished collage pictures for the picture book Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein. Once he got over the shock of their disappearance, Ed knew that he would have to start all over again.

First you’ll hear author (and former English teacher)  Reibstein talk about his inspiration for the book ( his Kyoto cat. ) Stay with the video to hear Ed discuss the decision he had to make in a time of dismay and stress.

“Creating enough tension in me to make it better than the first version…”

Which brings us to two new books with  Ed Young art.

Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa and Ed Young

Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa and Ed Young

Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa is a taut telling of a Japanese folktale about a wise grandfather who, with his grandson, sets fire to his own rice field.  It’s his way to draw the villagers up from the the beach before the Tsnunami,  the “monster wave”  strikes.
Only the grandfather and grandson can see the wall of water coming, because of their high vantage point over the small town and bay.

You see, the grandfather knows the villagers will rush up the hill to help him put out the fire in his field.

The crowd’s own sense of community and duty saves them — but not before the grandfather’s sacrifice of his harvest.

Philomel Books has brought out an exciting action story. Young’s ingenious collage illustrations immerse the reader in a harrowing experience of fire and water and a Japan  of long ago.

You can hear my podcast review of  Tsunami on the children’s book audio blog  Just One More Book here.

'Hook" written and illustrated bv Ed Young

‘Hook” written and illustrated bv Ed Young

Roaring Brook Press has just published Hook Ed Young’s original story of a Native American boy who finds an eagle’s egg. He brings the egg home to his pueblo village, where the hens can look after it. The baby  eagle doesn’t fit in very well with town or chickens, despite everyone’s efforts to try to teach him to fly. “You weren’t meant for Earth,” observes a kind hen, before the boy takes the eaglet to the top of the canyon for the last  flying lesson he will need.

Instead of resorting to his now famous collage technique, Young illustrates with his evocative drawings. He uses luminous pastel  on  brown speckled paper that evokes the red rock and sand of the American Southwest.

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Mark Mitchell hosts the How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator blog.
Hear his review of  Tsunami on last Wednesday’s podcast of  Just One More Book.

Do you live near the Austin, Texas area?  Join Mark’s six week class in children’s book illustration scheduled to begin Monday, September 14 at the  Art School of the Austin Museum of Art.

The class will run  6 p.m. – 9 p.m.  Monday evenings until October 19. Visit the website or contact the AMOA art school at (512) 323-6380 to learn more.

Don’t live anywhere near Central Texas? Then try out some free online lessons on using color in your painting.  They’re some of the best from Mark’s 19 part online course, “Mark Your Splashes! Make Your Marks!” And they’re available free, for a few weeks longer.  Download Power Color here.

Uralish Dance: Olga Kishkina plays the gusli.  Arto Tarkkonen plays the accordian.

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About The Author

Mark Mitchell

Award-winning children's book author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell teaches classes in watercolor and children's book illustration at The Contemporary Art School in Austin, Texas.


  1. Becky

    I admire book illustrators so much. It takes a very talented person to be able to capture the meaning of the book in a picture. I recently read a book titled, “Dear Baby, What I love about you!” by Carol Casey to my little girl. Wow the illustrations were gorgeous! The message of the book was also pretty cute- teaching babies that they are loved. There was even a pretty unique section in the back of the book (also very colorfully decorated), where parents could document important milestones in babies life. I wish I had the talent to be a good illustrator, but I am going to have to just settle for enjoying others’ talents for now.

    • Mark Mitchell

      Thank you for the nice post, Becky! I’ll look for “Dear Baby!”

  2. Brian Yansky

    Great post, Mark. Interesting on the lost art. It reminds me of the story about Hemingway’s wife losing all his stories when she was traveling with them on a train. Sure it was a tragedy, but it inspired him to look at his writing in a new way.

    • Mark Mitchell

      Thanks, Brian!
      I heard that John Steinbeck lost one of his complete manuscripts, too (don’t know which one) and had to rewrite the whole thing And I’ve heard that Thomas Carlyle had to start all over with his history “The French Revolution” after a maid accidentally threw it out.

  3. Becky

    Your welcome.

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