The Art of Illustrating Children’s Literature

An infirm pachyderm inspires student illustrators.

Robby Tuttle '13 (SFA) won the 2011 Raab Associates Prize in Illustration for his illustration of a four-line poem by Jane Yolen.
Robby Tuttle ’13 (SFA) won the 2011 Raab Associates Prize in Illustration for his illustration of a four-line poem by Jane Yolen.


Illustration major Robby Tuttle ’13 (SFA) has been selected as the winner of this year’s Raab Associates Prize in Illustration for his interpretation of Jane Yolen’s poem, Infirm Pachyderm.

Infirm Pachyderm

© 2011 by Jane Yolen, All rights reserved

More than in most any other literary form, illustration plays an important part in telling stories to small children and in piquing the interest of slightly older readers. For this reason, each year since 1999 illustration students in the Department of Art and Art History in the School of Fine Arts have competed for the Raab prize donated by Susan Salzman Raab ’80 (CLAS), founder and co-owner of Raab Associates, a children’s book marketing agency based in Chappaqua, N.Y. Winners are named in November, just prior to the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair held at UConn.

Mike Tassinari '12 (SFA) was runner-up in the Raab children's illustration contest.
Mike Tassinari ’12 (SFA) was runner-up in the Raab children’s illustration contest.

This year instructor Alison Paul presented a special challenge to her students when she selected Yolen’s four-line poem as the class project.

Paul says she selected the work because, “It is brilliantly sparse and lent itself to multiple interpretations. I was also excited to have the students face the challenge of depicting death in a children’s book illustration, which might be one of the hardest things to do. I’m happy to say they rose to the challenge.”

Entries were judged by Raab, Yolen, and Terri Goldich, the curator of the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. Tuttle’s work particularly impressed the judges because of its well-drawn graphics and sense of gallows humor, a combination almost certain to appeal to young readers.

Runner up was senior illustration major Mike Tassinari ’12 (SFA), whose work caught the eye of the judges because of its creative use of varied media. Tassinari first made a three-dimensional clay model, which he then photographed, to illustrate the poem.

An illustration by Hayden Parker '13 (SFA).
An illustration by Hayden Parker ’13 (SFA).

Junior illustration major Hayden Parker ’13 (SFA) also impressed panel with the realistic, yet almost luminescent, quality of her illustration.

In describing the synchrony between words and pictures in children’s literature, Goldich cites author Mac Barnett who wrote in his Proclamation on the State of the Picture Book, “The line between author and illustrator is irrelevant.”

Goldich adds that this statement is probably one of the best descriptions of a true picture book she’s ever read. “It is as much the illustrations in a child’s book that holds [the young reader’s] interest as the text,” she says. “It is as much the text in the child’s book that instructs and entertains as the illustrations. The best picture books have such a close relationship between the text and illustrations that one truly needs the other to exist.”

The work of Tuttle and the other illustration students, all of whom received high praise from the judges for their creativity and imagination in dealing with a potentially difficult subject, will be on display at the Book Fair.

The Connecticut Children’s Book Fair was established in 1991 by Raab, as a means of recognizing important contributions made by those writing for a young audience. The two-day event continues to grow in popularity and this year it will welcome an impressive lineup of more than 20 authors and illustrators. Included in the list are Caldecott and Newbery award-winner Tomie dePaola, who has written more than 200 books for children; noted  illustrators Betsy Lewin and Salley Mavor; and author and illustrator Jane Yolen, who has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America.

The Book Fair will be held on Nov. 12 and 13 in the Rome Commons Ballroom on the Storrs Campus. During the weekend there will be appearances by the Treblemakers Children’s Choir, Suzuki Music Groups, and Tails of Joy, a group that uses companion animals to provide therapeutic visits to children and adults.

As a special attraction for those who have pre-registered, the ever popular Clifford, the Big Red Dog will be on hand to partake in breakfast both mornings.