Books as reference, inspiration, and setting the bar high

Character study, pencil and gouache

As a children’s book creator, I study a lot of picture books. Needless to say, I’ve amassed a huge library. I’ve used the books as reference and inspiration for whatever book I was working on at the time, and also as a gauge for setting a high bar for my own books. Currently I’m illustrating a book written by Chris Barton, a friend and critique buddy.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a nonfiction biography about John Roy Lynch, a one-time enslaved African American who later became a prominent politician. Lynch was among the first generation of African Americans who got into politics following the Civil War during the Reconstruction period.

For the Lynch book, I purchased nearly 25 picture books, reference books, movies and documentaries. Below is a list of picture books that inspired me in some way:

Electric Ben

I love this book for it’s authenticity. Author/illustrator Robert Byrd successfully captures the time period of Ben Franklin in art and book design. The book is obviously well researched, a perfect example of narrative illustration.

A Boy Called Dickens
Very convincing portrayal of old London, mid-1800s. I love the golden colors and antique feel combined with soft colors. I also like the use of illustrated typography.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds
Illustrated by John Hendrix, the same illustrator of A Boy Called Dickens, this book successfully captures the ambiance of the Civil War, while it’s lighthearted illustrations soften the subject matter. I haven’t even read the story, but I don’t really need to — there’s so, so much to look at and learn from the art alone.

A Splash of Red
Oftentimes with biographies of African Americans, a more realistic, almost portraiture approach is used for the illustrations. A Splash of Red veers away from that more traditional, ridged style, employing a fun, naive, and child-friendly look. This is what I want for my books!

A River of Words
This book combines collage with Sweet’s — very sweet — childlike paintings. I’m not a collagist, my mind simply does not work that way. And if I tried, I’d only excel in making a big mess. But with the Lynch book, I do plan to loosen up a bit. Experiment.

Truly authentic. I’m totally convinced that Cole traveled back in a time machine to get his reference.

The Glorious Flight
The characters and color pallet are convincingly 1901 French.

Home on the Bayou
For the same reasons I was inspired by A Splash of Red, the naive style is appealing, and illustrator focused more on the gestures and action of the characters and less on photo-accuracy of the anatomy.

Liberty’s Voice
Many of the books that I’ve listed used a gold-brown antiquing technique to capture the mood of the time period. But with Liberty’s Voice, the artist captured a golden age using bright, vibrant colors.

Henry’s Freedom Box
Because anything that Kadir illustrates is inspiring. Duh.

Hope’s Gift
Yes, my own books actually inspire me.

Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette
Love this book!  What more to say?

I have these books on order:

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero


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