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Five Top Children’s Authors and Illustrators Interviewed in Celebration of International Picture Book Month

Well-crafted picture books are a genre all on their own and represent the careful weaving together of the visual and the word into a single thread of the story which delights, satisfies and feeds all who read them – young and old.

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This November, international Picture Book Month, Arabella Koopman, Content Manager for Nal’ibali, a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, interviewed five of South Africa’s top children’s authors and illustrators to find out what motivates and inspires their work and why celebrating international Picture Book Month is so important, commenting that: “If you want to rekindle the child in you, explore a picture book. If you want to ignite the fire for reading in children, share a picture book with them.”

Marjorie van Heerden (Author and Illustrator)

Award winning Marjorie van Heerden has been drawing picture stories since before she could read and write and has been creating them ever since. Her work is featured in over 120 children’s books worldwide and has been published in over 30 languages.

Q: How did you first get into writing and illustrating picture books?

A: After I finished my studies at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, and after my daughter and son were born, I became a full-time mom with an artist’s studio at home – it was my children to led me to start focussing on children’s books, particularly picture books.

Q: Which part of the process do you most enjoy?

A: For me, the fun part of picture book illustration is every part of the process – the fun time is all the time! However, the creative process, before the final illustrations, is not easy, but, at the same time, it’s part of the fun! The satisfaction lies in working at it until you solve each of the tricky parts. I love picture books – reading the story and experiencing the pictures. I believe that benefits of pictures are not only for children, a well-illustrated picture book provides the gateway to an experience – an adventure that can stimulate the mind and the imagination.

Niki Daly (Author and Illustrator)

Niki Daly has been writing and illustrating award-winning picture books for 35 years. His latest book, The Herd Boy, is one of Jacana’s recommended picture books for 2013.

Q: Why do you think we should be celebrating picture books?

A: Pictures books should be celebrated as a powerful spark for life – books are for the mind and imagination what food is to our bodies. When they have pictures, as all good books should have, they connect us to worlds that are sometimes beyond our imaginations.

Q: What is the most fun part of working on picture books?

A: The best part for me is creating the characters – I can fill up many pages of my sketchbook with them. Indeed, many of my books spring from a particular character that I have drawn. A strong character can pull you straight into a story with them.

Jude Daly (Illustrator and Author)

Married to Niki Daly, Jude Daly is an acclaimed writer and illustrator of children’s picture books herself. Her next book, available in 2014, will be illustrated by her husband.

Q: What is the hardest part of working on picture books?

A: A blank sheet of paper! Although, after 20 years of illustrating and 13 years of re-writing, I have come to love the thrill of illustrating and writing books. My main challenge is to silence the voice in my head that tells me I can’t do it!

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to children about pictures book?

A: Picture books are an essential ingredient for feeding the imagination and for opening up endless possibilities – I hope you never feel too old to enjoy them!

Wendy Hartmann (Author)

Wendy Hartmann started writing in 1986 and has published more than 40 children’s books. Her books have been selected for honour’s lists and nominated for writing and illustration awards.

Q: Why do you think we should be celebrating picture books?

A: When you open a picture book, you discover a whole new world. Everyone needs to be exposed to the wonders and delights of picture books. No matter who you are you will discover a picture book that you will want to share.

Q: What inspires you to work on picture books?

A: That has to be the moment when the story pulls together and you feel a certain excitement. Then the illustrator starts to work and begins to interpret your words – it’s a wonderful development. The hardest part is cutting out words and sentences you thought were so important and finding out that some stories just don’t work. But, the ones that do open up a whole new world to the reader, no matter how old they are, and that inspires me.

Joan Rankin (Illustrator)

With many awards behind her name, Joan believes children’s books are the best, most exciting way to learn about life, language and solving problems. Her latest book, Sisi Goes to School and Other Stories written by Wendy Hartmann, is now on shelves.

Q: How long have you been illustrating picture books for?

A: I wrote and illustrated my first picture books about our family pets when I was 15 years old but my career really took off after I won the Daan Retief Children’s Book Illustration Competition in 1986. It really was learning on the job and I suddenly had many, many books to illustrate.

Q: What is the process like for you?

A: A book can take me anywhere from between six weeks to six months or longer to complete. The hardest part is getting started. You have to get to know the main character, their reactions and emotions – it can be exhausting! But, it’s always fun, if it isn’t, the book is at risk of being boring. Great examples of successful picture books are Clown and Zagazoo, both by Quentin Blake.

Nal’ibali will be giving away book hampers containing recommended pictures books from publishing houses Jacana, NB Publishers, Songololo and Pan MacMillan. To enter, email with your contact and postal details. To read reviews of these titles and for further information on reading with children visit the Nal’ibali web and mobisites, and

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