The influence of illustrations in children’s books (Part 1)

A child perceives a story very differently if it can rely on accompanying illustrations than if having to work its way through sole text. This impact of illustrations as well as its triggers shall be topic of this blog entry.

According to Schmid (Schmid 1990, p. 72), illustrations solely help children to better understand the content if the two of them are in a congruent relationship and communicate the same aspects. If illustrations are incorporated into the story, children as well as adults tend to process these visual cues before the textual/verbal ones. An illustrator must therefore consider the fact that an image is looked at first and make sure that illustrations and text convey the story in a logical and chronological manner. If these aspects are considered, a child can understand and remember a story in a better way.

The very first cue that is processed by the recipient is often visual. Since this first impression essentially influences the ongoing perception of the story, this first cue can undertake the task of creating a meaningful feeling of hierarchy in the perception of the recipient.

Still, younger children often have problems understanding the organization and structure of a story. This is where illustrations in the macro-structural sphere step in. These illustrations basically provide the recipient with information on the hierarchy of a story and help to understand which characters, objects etc. play a more or less essential role in this dramaturgy. 

When asking the question of which and how many parts of a story shall be illustrated, there are different scientific views. One perspective explains that illustrations have an essential impact on understanding if they represent what is written in text as well as show further aspects of the story. However, as mentioned before, an opposing scientific perspective exists.

To conclude, illustrations do play a vital role when reading children’s books. Firstly, they help to better understand not only the story but also its structure and hierarchy. Secondly, illustrations are perceived at the very beginning, therefore shape the first impression and determine the way further visual or verbal information in the story is perceived. Thirdly, illustrations attract the recipient’s attention and make the conveyed message/story more memorable.


Schmid, Gerhild (1990): Zum Einfluss von Textillustrationen und Überschriften auf das Leseverständnis. Eine Untersuchung an Kindern der 2. und 4. Klasse Volksschule. Graz: Universität Graz