The influence of illustrations in children’s books (Part 2)

As mentioned in the previous blog post, illustrations in children’s books have, under certain circumstances, positive effects on the reading experience of children. To explore this topic further, the exact aspects of illustrations that influence children’s perception of the story are determined. 

Format and first impressions

The size and shape of a physical book have numerous effects on the readers: The format implies attitudes about what audience the book has, about how they should behave and what experience they deserve to have.


The cover of a book evokes not only a first impression by the recipient but also expectations of what the book should contain, who the audience ist and what feelings it evokes while reading etc.

Illustration layout

The design inside a book influences the readers at a second step. If illustrations or pictures in books have borders, they imply strict boundaries, detachment and objectivity. Illustrators can use borders to suggest tension and intense activity. This mood can be amplified e.g. by having objects break through these borders. One should consider that a variation in borders/border widths suggest a shift in meaning.

Mood and atmosphere

Illustrations play the same role as the tone of a text – they convey not only information but also moods. Illustrators can take advantage of the following ways to convey an atmosphere: by predominating hues, shades and saturation of colours, by different predominating shapes and by their choice of media. Moreover, different shapes communicate different moods: Rounded shapes can refer to softness while angular ones can be associated with rigidity and orderliness. Uncompleted lines appear unstable and energetic while lines that enclose space appear stable and calm. 

Illustration Styles

Also the overall style of a set of illustrations lets the readers perceive the story in a different manner. Hereby, all the small decisions an illustrator makes are part of the resulting style. Cartooning and exaggerated, colourful characters and situations evoke a feeling of humor while precise and realistic black and white drawings seem serious. Surrealistic illustrations appear to be rather strange while impressionistic ones can convey a dreamy and romantic atmosphere.

Size and location of objects

Large figures appear to have more weight and be more important. This is how an illustrator can depict superior or threatening characters. Depicting a situation from a different point of view might also increase this effect. If a character is placed in the center, it is perceived more important. However, much to the disadvantage of other figures, since the ones on the side are not emphasized. One can use other techniques to lay emphasis of these characters. The figures in an illustration form shapes, which in turn, evoke the feeling of either balance or disorder. For example, the final illustration that intends to show the happy ending of the story should be balanced. In fact, the principles of gestalt are applicable in the context of illustrations for children’s books.

Movement and time

In order to depict movement in an illustration, one can create drawings with incomplete actions, e.g. a running animal. This way, readers imaging the action’s completion. Also, ‘action lines’, usually used by cartoonists, can help to depict movement and speed. Because people living in western countries are used to read from left to right, they also look at illustrations and pictures from left to right. In context with time, this means that what happens on the left-hand side happens before what happens on the right-hand side.

To conclude, these facts should be considered when illustrating for children. When applied right, these aspects can help convey the story as intended by the illustrator.


Nodelman, Perry; Reimer, Mavis (2003): The pleasures of children’s literature (third edition). Pearson Education