Picture Books About People

Who Create Pictures

by Edie Ziebel

This past year has produced a number of books about Artists with a capital "A". The subject matter poses an extra challenge for the picture book biography. Not only telling the story of an artist's childhood and life, but depicting it in a way that's works cooperatively with their artwork whether or not it's already familiar to the reader.

Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse is written by Marjorie Blain Parker and illustrated by Holly Berry. At the beginning, Berry uses black-and-white illustrations to show us Matisse before he starts painting, and a full-color palette is used after starting to let "color into his life." This is a stunning picture book with the important message of never giving up on your dreams.

Bonnie Christensen created an absolutely fabulous book when she wrote and illustrated Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol. Children are often exposed parodies of Warhol's famous paintings of Campbell’s soup cans and his signature portraiture before they see the original pieces. With this book they get to know the artist who created these iconic images. Often sick as a child, Warhol found comfort in reading comic books and most especially in drawing. From his childhood in 1930's Pittsburgh to the height of his international fame in the 1960s, he blurred the line between commercial art and fine art. This book uses replicas of Warhol's paintings and style to evoke his work.

It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw is written by Don Tate and illustrated by award-wining R. Gregory Christie. Artist Bill Traylor is a former slave who didn't begin to draw until the age of eighty-five - a full fifteen years older than the standard-bearer for artistic late bloomers Grandma Moses. This a picture book biography with truly historic scope. With many pictures based on his memories of rural and urban life in Alabama, the book also explores the importance early experiences as inspiration for an artist. The art in the book reflects Traylor's idiosyncratic style. It Jes' Happened includes sources and quote citations in the front of the book and an author's note in the back.

Another exploration of a painter who comes to art late in life isThe Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. It is vividly written by by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall who uses flat, bright colors to evoke Rouseau's work. Rousseau had no formal training, he was a self-taught painter at 40 who was rejected by the critics of his day. It wasn't until much later in his life that a younger group of artists did recognize his talent. This book also includes other historical figures in the illustrations -- with a "who's who" diagram in the back pointing out Picasso, Gertrude & Leo Stein, and Alice B. Tolkas among others.

Magritte's Marvelous Hat written and illustrated by D. B. Johnson, tells the story of famous surrealist painter Rene Magritte and his iconographic hat. Inspired by Magritte's imaginative artwork, the author/illustrator wonders how he might have been inspired to paint ordinary objects in such unusual ways. The art reflects some of Magritte's own work and the use of four double-sided overlays helps readers understand the artist's vision. The Author's Note provides additional insight into surrealist art and reminds readers that creativity can come from any direction. This is a brilliant introduction to Magritte's paintings.

These books impart an extra layer of meaning to the term "picture book". But there is one other new book about an artist that merits mention here, this year's Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan. Author Katherine Applegate, who gave us insight into the animal and human mind in her Animorphs series, let's us in on animal artist's thought process. Ivan, who lived most his life as an attraction in a shopping mall, finds refuge in his art. "When I'm drawing a picture, I feel…quiet inside." His artwork helps create a better life for himself, his baby elephant friend, and his human friends too. I devoured this book in a single afternoon, wept through the last third. A truly worthy award winner!

About the Author


From baby books, to chapter books, through middle grade readers and young adult books, Edie Ziebel has designed and art directed over 1,000 books. Edie has worked at several major publishing houses and has always been a freelance designer throughout her career. She has collaborated with outstanding, award-winning illustrators as well as newcomers to the field, helping them to create compelling books for young readers. To help nurture talent, Edie volunteers with the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference, which she has co-chaired for the past 3 years.

With experience in trade, mass-market, and educational publishing, Edie will bring the appropriate design to your project. Specializing in books for very young children, Edie can help you develop illustrated books, guiding the development of the artwork itself, as well as the layout and pacing to make your story jump off the page. Edie’s also has collaborated on many different types and formats of novelty books, she can really think "outside the box".

Her experience working with licensed properties can help you create a character that stands out in the crowded license marketplace. She can develop style guides to help keep characters consistent whether you continue to create  their books or have others extend your line.

Edie’s time in educational publishing helped develop her informational graphic skills, helping authors bring home their point to readers in a clear, graphic manner. She’s also designed books and materials targeted towards teachers. 

Bringing a sensitivity to typography and layout to all her book projects, Edie Ziebel can bring the best out of you!


"She is intelligent, concise, has a good eye for detail and a great sense of humor."

"Edie one of my favorite art directors ever. We worked on a number of wonderful books together at Cartwheel, a Scholastic imprint. She is imaginative, creative, inspirational and a pure pleasure to work with. I repeat, one of the best!"

"Edie is a phenomenal organizer who’s able to juggle many projects at once, and she manages schedules and people with ease. She was well-loved by her staff, and all the freelance designers and artists she worked with. I was lucky to have her on my team. A strong designer of both upscale trade and mass-market children’s books--a rare combination—I don’t think I ever once saw her lose patience or become flustered."

More >>