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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Can Re-Illustration Ever Be Justified?

I was sitting down with a colleague the other day and the conversation turned, as all conversations are wont to do, to the subject of William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow.  I won’t bore you yet again with my theory that the book would sell like hotcakes if they just bothered to re-illustrate the darn thing (if curious, you can hear me rant here).

The conversation only started with William’s Doll.  After a while it went in a different direction.  The question is this:

Has a picture book ever been improved by a re-illustration?

The worst case scenarios are always the easiest to think of.  Anyone anywhere re-illustrating The Tale of Peter Rabbit is, by natural extension, taking an active role in a crime against man.  That sort of thing falls into the if-it-ain’t-broke category.

Here are a couple cases of less violent re-illustration that come immediately to mind:

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown


The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

Never Tease a Weasel by Jean Condor Soule

Many Moons by James Thurber

Do any of these improve on the original?  Or is re-illustration never really a case of improvement but rather giving kids a variety of different ways to look at something familiar?  I remember as a kid being read The Wind in the Willows and being shown both the original Shepard art as well as the contemporary (at the time) Michael Hague-by-way-of-Arthur-Rackham illustrations and enjoying the contrast.  Maybe in some cases that’s the best use of multiple reinterpretations.

What are some of your favorite cases of re-illustration?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Probably the most re-illustrated book ever is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and I think it is totally justified. I adore seeing what different illustrators do with my beloved book. Some channel Tenniel while others go in totally new directions. One of my favorites is the edition illustrated by Anthony Brown. With the 150 publication anniversary coming up I’m guessing a few new renderings may be in the works.Can’t wait!

    • I completely agree with you about Alice In Wonderland and also, of course, fairy tales. It’s very creative and also adds interest because each new artist is of their own era, and what how does that show through in how they choose to illustrate?

      In cases where it’s Curious George or Babar or Madeline–or any already created character, then I’d say no.

  2. First time seeing the re-illustrated Velveteen Rabbit made me want to DIE.

  3. I’m a little mixed about the Miriam Cohen re-illustrated picture books. The new images are fine but I do love the original illustrations.

    All the others coming to mind right now are re-illustrations I don’t like–particularly The Gunniwulf.

  4. It all depends upon the artist. Maurice Sendak’s version of Ruth Krauss’s Bears (2005) is stronger (and different) than that tale’s original version (Phyllis Rowand, 1948). I think the main issue here is that any picture book with new art is an entirely different book. It’s not merely re-illustrated. Since the art is so integral to the experience, a new artist creates a new work.

  5. I don’t love it, but sometimes it can be improved. My biggest dislike is all the re-illustrated Beverly Cleary books. The Louis Darling illustrations are so perfect, I miss them wholly. I also love the original James & the Giant Peach and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory illustrations. I know most people only love the Quentin Blake ones, but I have hard copies of the older ones and love them so very, very much!

    The best thing about re-illustrated books, though, is tracking down copies of the originals!

    • YES! I miss the original James & The Giant Peach illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burket so much when I read the new editions.
      I kind of like the Lauren Child re-illustrations of Pippi. Can’t figure out who did the ones I grew up on – not the Swedish original.

  6. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Can we request books that we’d like to see re-illustrated? I’d vote for A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL by Marilyn Nelson. Maybe I don’t want it re-illustrated as much as I want the reverse treatment of GOD WENT TO BEAUTY SCHOOL/GOD GOT A DOG (i.e. removing or de-emphasizing the illustrations).

  7. The first example I thought of is BLACK IS BROWN IS TAN by Arnold Adoff – both versions illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, but in very different styles! I don’t think I’ve seen the inside of the older one, but the new cover definitely looks less dated.

  8. I actually prefer the original of Never Tease a Weasel, I am not sure what it was about the new illustrations, but I found them to be a little disturbing. I don’t have either on hand to look at to say why I prefered one over the other.(The original I read to my niece and nephew while visiting Texas, the new one was in my system).

  9. Hm, now that I’m thinking about it, I prefer the re-illustrated versions of two Jewish classics: Cakes and Miracles by Barbara Diamond Goldin, and Hanukkah Bear (formerly The Chanukah Guest) by Eric A. Kimmel.

  10. Rebecca Smith says:

    One re-illustration undertaking that I don’t understand is the Joanna Cole series (I’m a Big Sister, I’m a Big Brother, etc.) that was originally illustrated by Maxie Chambliss. I adore the warmth and charm of Maxie’s pictures and don’t see the appeal of Rosalinda Kightley’s new illustrations at all. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see any reason to “update” these books.

  11. I usually prefer the originals but I like the new Never Tease a Weasel because George Booth can make anything better!

  12. Judy Anderson says:

    While I too love the original illustrations on most of the titles mentioned, as a librarian hand selling books to often skeptical children, I really appreciate many of the newer covers. Kids don’t like books that look “old.” They (and we) often judge books by their covers (and titles.) I have often been frustrated trying to “sell” a really good book with an outdated or boring cover.

  13. I also usually prefer originals but second the recommendation of the Lauren Child-illustrated version of Pippi.

  14. I am so looking forward to the new illustrations of the Ricky Ricotta books, by Dan Santat!

  15. Garth Williams was such an improvement of whoever did the original Little House in the Big Woods.

    • I thought Garth Williams was the original illustrator of Little House in the big woods! And, as much as I like Brett Helquist’s work, I’m afraid his re-illustration of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to tell in the dark series, are not as deliciously creepy as the originals by Stephen Gammell.

  16. I love re-illustrations! I think it’s the second thing you said–different ways to look at something familiar. It’s like musicians covering someone else’s song. It doesn’t wipe out the original, it extends and deepens its story. It can even make the original more special. I grew up reading Roald Dahl with Quentin Blake illustrations, and then I saw a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the original Schindelman illustrations and it blew my mind. It gave the story this whole new eeriness, not just because those pictures are SO creepy, but because it was like the story had this whole other life before I knew it. Like finding out your parents used to be rock stars before they were accountants, you know?

    Another Zolotow- I love Leuyen Pham’s version of A Father Like That.

  17. I’m curious to hear what people think of the new Kazuo Kibuishi covers for the paperback Harry Potter books. They made far less of a splash than I would have thought, but upon reflection I realized that maybe it was just a case of bad timing rather than anything about the covers themselves. My guess is that most booksellers still have plenty of stock of the GrandPre-illustrated editions and it will take a while to run out.

    I also found the picture-book adaptations of the Little House books interesting in that they were made with Garth William’s style very much in mind. Same thing with the later Alexander books being done in the style of Cay Cruz.

    And what about Illustrators redoing their own work? The most obvious case being Eric Carle, who has re-done The Very Hungry Caterpillar more than once. Was that an editorial decision to brighten up the pictures, or was he tinkering with perfection, like ol’ George Lucas?

    • >or was he tinkering with perfection, like ol’ George Lucas?

      I’ve heard that, in the Special Edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the leaf bites first…

  18. I’m waiting with a great deal of curiousity to see a book come out later this year which is being reillustrated but by the same original illustrator! James Mayhew’s 1st Katie book was published 25 years ago, and apparently James was keen to reillustrate, feeling his skill has developed so much since the book was first published.

  19. I agree that fairy tales are prime examples of ‘re-illustration’ improving a book, or at least, reinterpreting it with fresh eyes. By way of example: Anthony Browne-YES, Lisbeth Zwerger-YES. However, I would also argue that some books are in dire need of new illustrations. In particular, the Robert Munsch book Love You Forever. I am no fan of this book (to put it lightly), but I can’t help thinking that a set of less creepy illustrations would vastly improve the story.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I believe some people will tell you that the Canadian illustrations of that book improve it. I say the American art fits the text perfectly. Wouldn’t change a thing (take that as you may).

  20. I really like the Simont version of Thirteen Clocks, myself. While I often have a sentimental attachment to the originals, as long as the re-illustrations are done well (i.e. NOT Scary Stories!) I don’t mind them.

  21. I think there’s no harm done in re-illustrating stories, but I do think that artists should actually add something new. This is why I love Lisbeth Zwerger, whose illustrations of classic books always bring something fresh.

  22. Speaking as a writer of picture books, I’d love to see different interpretations of my stories, even the ones I illustrated myself. The illustrator does more than just draw pictures that match the text, they bring a whole new story to the table. (eg My IN A BLUE ROOM ended with the moonlight turning everything blue, Tricia Tusa’s ended it with the earth being the blue room.) It would be interesting to see how other illustrators might tell a different story.

  23. Bernie Mount says:

    Maybe this should be the re-illustration challenge for the year, in the spirit of Re-Suessify and Re-Sendakify. Re-illustrate a picture book in the style of the artist you think could do it better!

  24. One of my favorites is Beatrice Doesn’t Want To by Laura Numeroff. The original was gross, and the redone illustrations by Munsinger with the dogs as the characters totally sells the book. Bad illustrations can absolutely ruin a great story!

  25. I do generally enjoy Rosemary Wells’ re-illustration of her own books

  26. One of my all-time favorite books – and a terrific readaloud – is Alan Arkin’s TONY’S HARD WORK DAY, in its first version with illustrations by James Stevenson. It was published with new illustrations in 2002: awful (too cutesy). Fortunately my two copies of the Arkin/Stevenson original are holding up to frequent use.

  27. No disrespect to Ronald Himler, but I identify so strongly to Lillian Hoban’s collaborations with Miriam Cohen (Will I Have a Friend, Bee My Valentine, First Grade Takes a Test), that I find his illustrations generic in comparison. As much as I love Marc Simont, I’m surprised that he re-illustrated Many Moons (It’s a Caldecott, is that allowed?) – I do hope the Louis Slobodkin version is still in print. That said, I do appreciate the new cover for Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix – it needed updating. I would give great booktalks for it, have the kids right where I wanted them, and they would take one look at the cover and turn their nose up.


  1. […] out Elizabeth Bird’s blog post that provides more nice examples of re-illustrated books. She poses the question: “Do any of […]