Every illustrator and writer has grown up with inspirations from a variety of sources. Illustrator Rekha Salin, wanted to find out what books illustrator and author Gary Fabbri feels inspired him.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a published author/illustrator and was raised on my grandmother’s stories. She’d send me, my brother, sister and a group of cousins on worldwide adventures. One day we would join the circus, and another, fly around the world in a hot air balloon. One time I managed to save the Golden Gate Bridge from collapse with an indestructible shoelace. Another time, I travelled to Uganda to assist local park rangers protecting the nearly extinct black rhinoceros from a group of evil poachers.

Grandma lived in a tiny cabin on the edge of a small town by a lake with a dog, Jeffry, two cats, and a large calico duck who liked nothing better than to steal Jeffry’s crunchy dog nuggets from a bowl on the back porch. When she wasn’t telling stories, she cooked and listened to the radio.

As soon as I was old enough, I set out on my own adventures. I moved to Europe after finishing an MBA and an MA in English Literature, and I’ve worked as a writer and director in London and Stockholm for television channels such as NBC, CNBC, Fox Kids, Discovery and Disney.

I love telling stories in words and pictures. The combination of writing and illustration keeps me inspired because there’s always something new to learn and explore.

I still remember my grandmother’s voice when I’m sitting down in the early morning in my Stockholm studio to write and illustrate my own stories.

Gary Fabbri showing one of his illustrations

Gary painting sunflowers, indoors

Gary sketching outside

Which genre do you write/illustrate for? 

I write and illustrate middle grade, chapter books and picture books. My published books are all middle grade at the moment, but I have some picture books in the works that I’m looking forward to finishing.

What inspires you to pick up or buy a book from the library/bookstore or buy Online?

I buy anything that interests me and seldom hesitate when it comes to kids books. If someone recommends a book, I buy it. I have quite a large personal library with books of all kinds ranging from picture books to graphic novels and YA. ‘The Art of’ books for films interest me. And I collect them and use them as inspiration for character design, but also because of the immense amount of thought and revision that goes into filmmaking. It can really help to see things in progress.

I also really like fantasy novels and read a lot of Brandon Saunderson, Orson Scott Card, Joe Abercrombie and others. I love reading Ursula Le Guin and Robin Hobb as well. The Earthsea Trilogy was one of the books that ignited my love for literature as a teenager.

A section of Gary's full bookcase

Some of Gary's picture book collection

Are you inspired by books from multiple genres written/illustrated by the same author/illustrator? 

Definitely. If I like an author I will buy all of their books. For example, I have all of Jonny Duddle’s books and it was a great pleasure to meet and interview him at the last SCBWI Picture Book retreat. I have read everything, and own almost everything, by Neil Gaiman. I have every book by Shaun Tan and of course, Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss.

Do you bring your inspirations into your work?

I think the inspiration into my own work comes primarily on the illustration side. I love using texture and fantasy that I see in Shaun Tan for example. I also like the kind of fantasy of William Joyce and I’m constantly inspired by Emily Gravett and Benji Davies. There are also some illustrators who have found a groove that works for them and I really admire that. Quentin Blake is the master, but also people like Ed Vere, Jon Klassen and Oliver JeffersWhat they do seems so simple but it's beautiful and effective.

How much of the inspiration do you bring into your works? 

Sometimes I think I am too inspired and it feels overwhelming when I see how much incredible work is out there when it comes to art. I can get lost in research and thinking how someone else might illustrate something. It can be a challenge to pull myself away and focus on what I love to do.

More of Gary's well stocked bookcase

More of Gary's picture book collection

How do you keep your work fresh, original and unique and avoid looking like 
your inspiration?

I feel that the more you work and the more you create, the less likely you are to ‘copy’ another style. Your own voice comes through working. The more focused you are on storytelling and creating emotional impact the less you have to worry about looking like your inspiration. Your internal truth emerges when you make art.

Does your book shelf have all the books that you love or inspired you? 

I am constantly updating and filling my book shelves. I like all kinds of art. It’s amazing that you can buy a book, especially one with pictures for a relatively low price and it is filled with amazing art. Books are probably one of the best value for money investments you can make when it comes to inspiring creativity.

Some of Gary's book shelves
Inspirational children's books from Gary's collection

Which are the main few books that have inspired your work and yet not on your bookshelf?

In addition to children’s books, I love collecting and browsing through art books. Sometimes when I discover a new fine artist I see perspectives I haven’t thought about before. There’s so much great work out there, and I’m always open to finding new books. So if anyone has any suggestions, send them my way.

Are there any books that have inspired you in a way that you really wish you worked on a text like that or you wish you thought of the unique way of ​storytelling? 

Every time I pick up one of my Shaun Tan books I’m just filled with inspiration. I think his combination of wonder and depth speaks to me. I actually joined SCBWI because he was going to be speaking at the New York conference and I wanted to meet him. It was my first event and I was thrilled to hear him speak with humility and kindness.

Still more of Gary's busy book shelves
Yet more inspirational children's books from Gary's collection

*Header image: In-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo

*All other images: Gary Fabbri


As soon as Gary Fabbri was old enough, he set out on his own adventures. He moved to Europe after finishing an MBA and an MA in English Literature, and he's worked as a writer and director in London and Stockholm for television channels such as NBC, CNBC, Fox Kids, Discovery and Disney.

See Gary’s work here. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Rekha Salin has three books published as an illustrator. Two picture books, one in 2020 and the other in 2022, and also a recipe book (for adults) in 2022 published by ABV publisher. She is currently working with Gnome Road Publishing, and this will be available in 2024.

See more of Rekha's work here. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.

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Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL and a background in marketing and publicity.

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