WRITING KNOWHOW Worldbuilding in Picture Books

In a new Writing KnowHow series on Worldbuilding, illustrator Catherine Lindow takes us into the world of picture books.

 There are hundreds of worlds on my bookshelf. I don’t think a single picture book is, to coin a term, ‘worldless’. But there are different ways to play the worldbuilding game.

Some illustrators are incredible at conjuring up worlds which are dreamlike, slightly ‘other’, and perhaps a tiny bit peculiar. Artists like David McKee, John Vernon Lord, Angela Barrett. These are worlds that seize hold of your imagination by its dungaree-straps… and your eyes will pop, because these are worlds where anything could happen. Feel the delicious thrill of spotting the figure in the crowd with a disembodied foot in his bag courtesy of Tomi Ungerer. Fly with Jane Ray’s Jinnie Ghost through nursery windows.

Snow White by Josephine Poole. Illustrated by Angela Barrett ©Hutchinson
Then there are the artists who excel at referencing the everyday. Sarah Garland’s home interiors are a celebration of the cluttered worktop, the discarded sock. Shirley Hughes, of course. Sara Ogilvie absolutely aces the suburban garden and the family sofa. The real twist to the genius of all of these artists is that once they’ve nailed the human-sized details that build these familiar worlds so deftly, they can turn their gaze on less familiar environments and use the same level of detail with powerful effect. Sarah Garland’s Azzi In Between contrasts Azzi’s well-to-do home life in her country of origin with her new, stark environment in the UK. Sarah Ogilvie goes out West in The Wildest Cowboy – and it’s a worldbuilding romp!

Meet the Parents by Peter Bently. Illustrated by Sarah Ogilvie ©Simon & Schuster
And how about the worlds we are flown to when a book is set in a place we don’t know so well? Take me, right now, to Katie Morag’s island… the world of Shen in The Magic Paintbrush and oh, that market in Baby Goes to Market.

Baby goes to Market by Atinuke. Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank ©Walker Books
When we open up a picture book, it’s as if the lights in the room behind us go out. The stage curtains open and we’re somewhere else entirely. How delicious!

Catherine Lindow lives and illustrates in a Fife seaside village.

She's fond of drawing towns and places and the people who may or may not live in them. Drainpipes, vexed dogwalkers and the odd bit of sprouting leafiness are among her favourite subjects.
See her work here and on Instagram.


  Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to knowhow@britishscbwi.org

1 comment:

  1. What a fun peek inside the worlds of picture books. Love this!


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