Preparing your Children's Story for Illustrations

Tutorial / 12 April 2023

So, you want to write a children's book but you're not sure when it's okay to reach out to an illustrator?

Here's a quick, no-nonsense guide.

The first question to ask yourself is this; are you self-publishing?

If the answer is no, then don't worry about the illustrator. Let the publisher take care of that. 

If the answer is yes, then stick around.

It is best to contact the illustrator when your manuscript is complete and well edited. Re-writing is part of the process, and sometimes new ideas come up. (I'll share a shortcut to editing your story, next).

When you reach out to an illustrator, they are likely to ask you questions about your book. You need to be able to answer all the questions without sharing your manuscript. It is important to protect your intellectual property. But how can you be sure of how many illustrations you will need?

You can figure that out by creating a picture book dummy. A picture book dummy is a very useful tool. It helps you organize the text in your story and see how things will flow from page to page. 

There are many ways to do this. You can use sticky notes, or a folded sheet of paper. But I've created a digital tool for this. I used this tool to develop my author-illustrator projects. You can get it for free here.

Once you have the text in dummy form, you may choose to write prompts for the illustrator to work with.  It's great if the left and right sides of the book work together. Take note of what is happening on each spread, and how scenes change from spread to spread.

With that you are ready! You have a clear vision of what you need. You can create an illustration brief with confidence, and answer all questions easily. You can also identify illustrators who are the best fit for you. 

If this helped you, share it!

Hair 1

General / 12 October 2021

I'm creating a collection of artwork that explores African hair through various mediums, from digital to ink, charcoal to oil paint, and even sculpture. 

Many people have made art about hair, and the influence of the renowned photographer J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere cannot be denied.

But for me, making art about hair is personal and intimate. My experience caring for my fine kinky hair, the struggles to accept it's natural state, and memories from childhood, all come to play. I have shared many precious moments with my mother and sister, over hair.

While documenting hairstyles is a worthwhile practice, documenting my personal history, through hair, is what I aim to do. 

In this video I describe my experience of the drawing process. 

Lightning and Thunder

General / 19 June 2020

In the olden days the thunder and lightning lived on the earth amongst all the other people. The thunder was a sheep, and the lightning, her son, was a ram. Lightning and Thunder lived in the village and worked for the people there. With their immense power, they helped the people achieve much. But the village took Lightning and Thunder for granted. Lightning the ram had a terrible temper, and whenever he got upset, he would dash about the village. Everywhere he ran houses would burn and trees would get knocked down; he even did damage on the farms, and sometimes killed people.

Whenever Lightning did these things, his mother used to call out to him in a very loud voice to stop, to accept that this is how people have always behaved and not to do any more damage; but when Lightning is in a bad temper he might as well be deaf. At last the people could not stand it any longer, and complained to the king. So the king made a special order that Thunder the sheep, and Lightning the ram, should leave the town and live in the forest. This did not do much good. The animals in the forest felt it was their turn to use the power of Lightning and Thunder. They treated them the same way they had seen the people of the village treat them. When the ram got angry, he burnt the forest , destroying the homes of the animals living in it, and the flames spread to the farms and consumed them.

So the people and the forest animals complained bitterly, until the king decided to kill Lightning. In the dead of the night, the king’s servants went into the forest and captured Lightning. When they killed him, all the servants were burnt to ashes. Lightning’s spirit shot straight up into the sky to live with the gods. Kamalu had taken a liking to the feisty white ram and took him in. When Thunder woke up and she could not find her son, she began to call for him in a very loud voice. And when he did not return after a long time, she began to cry bitterly. As she cried the clouds cried with her.

For many days it rained and Thunder’s cries grew louder and more terrible until the people could not bear it anymore. They did not want to go to the King this time, because they feared things would get even worse. So they went to the Dibia. The Dibia decided that it would be best to offer Thunder to Kamalu, so that she would be together with her son. And so, the Dibia went into the bush, captured Thunder, and sacrificed her.

Ever since then, Lightning and Thunder became servants of Kamalu. Kamalu treats them kindly, sometimes he would send both of them on errands, and other times only Lightning will go.

Reference: Folk Stories from Southern Nigeria

Author: Elphinstone Dayrell

Published: 1910

Publisher:Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay & Calcutta


Retold and illustrated by Olusayo Ajetunmobi

The Hare

General / 23 May 2020

One day the hare went to the house of the hunter who was away hunting.

He said to the hunter’s wife, ‘Come to my house and live with me; we have meat and vegetables everyday’. 

The woman went with him. The hare took her deep into the bush, but when she saw the lair of the hare and had eaten grass with him and slept in the open with him, she was not satisfied. 

‘I want to go back’ she said. 

The hare replied, ‘you came here by your own choice’.

The woman did not know the way in the bush. She tried to retrace her steps, but found herself back where she started, so she said to the hare ‘Come with me and I will cook a nice dinner’. 

The hare took her to her house. Then she said ’Get me some firewood’.

The hare went to the forest and collected a load of firewood. The woman lit a fire and put a pot of water on it. Then she began to chop up vegetables. After a while she said to the hare, ‘see if the water is boiling’. 

As the hare opened the pot to check, steam rushed his face. The woman pushed the hare into the pot and put the lid back on.

When the hunter came home she said ‘I made meat and vegetables for dinner.’

The hunter never knew what happened.

Credit: The Hare is a Swahili folktale, featured in  'Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales'.

Illustrations copyright © Olusayo Ajetunmobi.