Beloved Children’s Book Illustrators

Original artwork from children’s literature continue to make up a large portion of our Illustration Art sales. The enduring appeal of this collecting category is in part due to the skilled hand and imagination of the artists, but is also tied to a strong sense of nostalgia—as adults, we often hold fond memories of the books we read in our own childhood. Whether they helped us to better understand our place in the world, or they transported us on an adventure to a realm more fantastical than our own, the books and accompanying images we encounter in childhood help shape our worldview and remain embedded in our sense of self many years after we close the cover.

The market remains strong for artwork produced by iconic illustrators who brought to life the pages of the classic stories we all know and love, and which tap into our wistful nostalgia for childhood.

We asked Swann staff to discuss some of their favorite children’s book illustrators.

 
Johnanna Stewart Mapes, illustration for the poem A Fairy Book, Conté crayon and watercolor on board, published in St. Nicholas Magazine, 1907. To be offered in our January 28, 2021, sale of Illustration Art. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.
 

Christine von der Linn, Director, Illustration Art


ARNOLD LOBEL


A child of the 1970s, I devoured anything Lobel put his hand to. In his ever-popular Frog and Toad series, he played upon the inherently homely-cute appearance of amphibians, which so perfectly expressed all range of emotion from sadness, disappointment, and anxiety, to joy, love, and surprise. I also credit him for instilling my lifelong love of squirrels with his fun and colorful illustrations for Miriam Young’s Miss Suzy, her 1964 story of a treehouse-proud lady squirrel who loves to cook and bake as I did, and still do. I was thrilled to handle many of the original drawings for it when the publisher’s storyboards were consigned to our December 2019 sale, though I sadly did not have enough acorns to purchase it.

   

SHEL SILVERSTEIN 


When I discovered Where the Sidewalk Ends, his first illustrated collection of children’s poetry, published in 1974, I felt like someone had reached into my brain and articulated all the disparate things churning inside of it. The first poem is an invitation to step inside the book, and did I ever! His fairly spare but highly expressive illustrations (which definitely fomented my love of line drawing) depicting these deliciously irreverent poems riddled with wild rhymes and slang like “ain’t” and “gonna” truly struck a chord in me. I had not yet discovered Lear or Thurber, let alone even knew that Silverstein was a talented songwriter and author of a long-running spicy feature in Playboy, but his books taught me the joy of nonsense. They also promised hope and possibility in lines such as “And all the colors I am inside / have not been invented yet.” 

Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends, New York, 1974.
 

Laura Polucha, Cataloguer, Illustration Art


DON FREEMAN


I love any illustration featuring animals in formalwear, so it is no surprise that Dandelion, Freeman’s heartwarming tale about a lion who overdresses for a party, was a childhood favorite of mine. When Dandelion arrives with his freshly curled mane, checkered blazer, cap, and cane, the hostess, a giraffe whose long neck is bedecked in a multi-strand pearl necklace, slams the door in his face, not recognizing the dapper dandy before her. Although he is remembered as an author and illustrator of children’s books, like the beloved Corduroy, Freeman began his career sketching impressions of Broadway and the New York City theater scene, which were published in the drama sections of major magazines and newspapers. These sketches, and his lithographs depicting everyday life in New York City, reveal the influences of two of my favorite artists: Honoré Daumier and John Sloan, who was his teacher at the Art Students League.

   

STEPHEN GAMMELL


I grew up in the 1990s, which was a terrific decade for children’s horror. I credit Gammell for sparking my love of the genre through his illustrations for Allen Schwartz’s series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which left me (any many others in my generation) terrified. The gruesome phantoms, leering skulls, and otherworldly monsters rendered in Gammell’s characteristic surreal style are hauntingly beautiful. Although these are the works for which he is best-known, Gammell has illustrated more than sixty children’s books, including the heartwarming story of a grandfather reenacting his vaudevillian days for his grandchildren in Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman, for which he won the Caldecott Medal in 1989.

Related Reading: Illustrator Profile: William Pène du Bois

 
Karen Ackerman, Song and Dance Man, New York, 1988. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell.
 
 

Kelsie Jankowski, Public Relations Associate


LUDWIG BEMELMANS


I adored Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans when I was little. His storytelling and illustrations captivated my attention, and I dreamed of walking in a straight line throughout Paris, or living in a house covered in vines (I still dream of that, looking at you, West Village). In 1999 Bemelmans’s son John Bemelmans Marciano published Madeline in Texas (also known as Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales) after he found his father’s draft of the book. I loved reading about my favorite character running around my home state’s landmarks in her ten-gallon hat—as a child, if I couldn’t go to Paris and see all the places Madeline visited, at least my favorite character could come to me and see all my favorite spots.

Related Reading: 75 years of Madeline

   

Deborah Rogal, Director, Photographs Department


EZRA JACK KEATS


Both my three-year-old and I frequently reach for Jack Ezra Keats’ The Snowy Day to read before bed. The collaged illustrations can be enjoyed so thoroughly by a child and adult. They are so tactile and rewarding in their use of pattern and color, perfectly capturing the quiet magic and wonder of a world transformed by snowfall. I think what I love most of all is the dappled pink he uses in his larger-than-life snowflakes on the last page, the falling snow crystals seeming to slowly drift to earth, dwarfing the little boys out to play.

 
Ezra Jack Keats, Drawing of Peter from The Snowy Day, prominently featured on a charming Typed Letter Signed to a young boy named Matthew. To be offered in our January 28, 2021, sale of Illustration Art. Estimate $800 to $1,200.
 

Rick Stattler, Director, Printed & Manuscript Americana


HELENE NYCE


My other favorite children’s book illustrator is Helene Nyce. When my son was very small, we took him to visit a friend of the family named Alice. She was so smitten that she bestowed upon us her favorite book from when she was a small girl in the 1930s—a well-worn 1927 edition of Eugene Field’s Child Verses. We spent the next couple of years reading that book with our son. It’s even more “well-loved” now than when we received it.

Helene Nyce was a working illustrator for many years, but is largely forgotten today. I don’t see that any of her original work has made it to the market, and I am honestly not familiar with any of her other books. Her 1927 edition of Child Verses can be found on ABE Books for as little as $4.00. It’s not a collector’s item, or an investment piece, and I suspect our home is the final destination for this copy. It’s just a sentimental favorite, but children’s literature is a good place to be sentimental.

 
Eugene Field, Child Verses, New York, 1927. Illustrated by Helene Nyce.
 

Devon Eastland, Senior Specialist, Early Printed Books, Science, Medicine, & Travel


JAMES MARSHALL


One of my favorite children’s book illustrators is James Marshall. When I was in elementary school, our whole class did a project that involved picking a favorite author or illustrator and writing to them. I wrote to James Marshall and was the only student to receive a response. He wrote me a very warm note on a big sheet of legal paper and sketched his dog and cat. I was so proud. I always assumed that in the course of moving out for college and my mother selling our house, that the letter was long gone, but I was wrong, my mom had kept it safe for me, and it still makes me proud.

 
James Marshall, George and Martha, pen, ink, and watercolor on paper. Sold in our June 4, 2019, Illustration Art sale for $2,125.
 

Marco Tomaschett, Specialist, Autographs


JOSEPH SCHINDELMAN


Although the children’s book illustrator for whom I have the greatest affinity is likely Edward Gorey (mainly because of the haunting animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery), so much is said about him that I will give kudos instead to Joseph Schindelman. Before I had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my childhood thoughts were dominated with the mesmerizing imagery in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Those two books are special to me, read in any order, and I will take to my grave the memory of the illustration showing the aliens forming their bodies into the words “SCRAM!”

 
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, first edition, first issue, signed, New York, 1964. Illustrated by Joseph Schindelman. Sold November 14, 2017, in 19th & 20th Century Literature for $9,375.
 

Lauren Goldberg, Specialist, Department Manager, Poster Department


MIKE VENEZIA


One of my favorite children’s book illustrators is a bit outside of Swann’s usual Rolodex. Growing up, I devoured the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series written & illustrated by Mike Venezia. His cartoon / comic style of relating the lives and cultural significance of some of the most famous artists fed my passion for art history from a very young age. Some of the biographical facts and humorous anecdotes about artists from Michelangelo to Monet will forever be etched into my brain!

 
Mike Venezia, Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Michelangelo, Chicago, 1991.
 

Jennifer De Candia, Administrator, Poster Department


DIRK ZIMMER (DIZI)


One of my favorite children’s book illustrators is Dirk Zimmer. Dirk Zimmer’s most well-known works are his illustrations for In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz. Most of the tales are in the style of urban legends, and the stories themselves probably would not have scared me so much as a kid if not for Zimmer’s accompanying images, like the figures from the story, “The Teeth.” I may be biased, as the main character and I share a name, but I always thought the most memorable among them is from the story of “The Green Ribbon”, which tells the tale of a woman named Jenny who always wears a green ribbon around her neck. When she has grown old, she lets her husband remove the ribbon, which causes her head to fall off. This final moment is illustrated in in the book, and is still as scary today as it was when I first read it!

 
Alvin Schwartz In A Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories, New York, 1984. Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (Dizi).
 

Harold Porcher, Director, Modern & Post-War Art


ESPHYR SLOBODKINA


I have so many favorites, but I am selecting one that is an emotional connection for me.

I was friends with Esphyr Slobodkina. I met her in 1989 when she was represented by Sid Deutsch Gallery. I had just started working for Sid as Preparator. Because I was in charge of all consignments in or out of the gallery, I worked with Esphyr closely. By 1992 I was Director. We closed the gallery and Esphyr joined Gary Snyder Fine Art. I too joined Gary and again worked with Phyra even more closely. We became quite good friends and in 2002 when she formed the Esphyr Slobodkina Foundation she asked me to be a board member in charge of her Fine Art.

My book choice is one of her lesser-known: The Flame, The Breeze, and the Shadow. I choose this because it has so many connections to her childhood in Manchuria. Manchuria of her childhood was then part of Russia, but is an amazing blend of Chinese, Russian, and Jewish culture.

 
Esphyr Slobodkina, Abstract Composition, gouache on board, circa 1940s. Sold June 13, 2019, in our American Art sale for $8,450.
 

Further Reading from Laura Polucha: Collecting the Works of Women Illustrators


Do you have an original illustration by a beloved children’s book illustrator we should take a look at?

Learn about how to consign to an auction, and send us a note about your item.