Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Picture Book Pairings I’d Like to See

The greatest advantage to being a children’s book editor, as I see it, is the power to occasionally pair your favorite authors with your favorite illustrators on a picture project near and dear to your heart.  We know on a logical level that it is rare when an editor manages to attain the precise perfect pairing they’ve always dreamed of.  There are schedules to work with, egos to stroke, and sometimes it’s just the wrong project for your chosen duo.  But since most of us are not real editors, we are not constrained by the chains of mere reality.  As such, I’ve come up with a couple of my own dream pairings that I haven’t seen (yet!) but would absolutely love to view.  When I open my next PW Children’s Bookshelf newsletter, these are the announcements I want to hear about:

Mac Barnett and Kadir Nelson

Mac_Barnett-thumb-500x565-7281        LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 21: Artist Kadir Nelson at his studio in downtown Los Angeles, California, on Friday, November 21, 2014. Nelson is an award-winning American artist with a focus on African American culture and history. His works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Among his recent accomplishments is the adaptation of his painting of NBA great Wilt Chamberlain into a USPS postage stamp. (Photo by David Walter Banks)

Here’s my thinking.  Mac gets great illustrators all the time, right?  And Kadir is only rarely paired with standard children’s book authors anymore.  He’ll either write his own picture books or not do them at all.  But what if, WHAT IF, you put these two crazy guys together?  Barnett can be manic or meaningful, depending on the book, and if he had a toned down text alongside Kadir’s art the end result could be pure movie magic (for lack of a better term).

This is fun!  Let’s try another.

Neil Gaiman and Lisa Brown

Neil-Gaiman-2    LisaBrown

I think they may already be buds, so this is sort of cheating.  It would not surprise me in the slightest if a Gaiman/Brown book were in the works as we speak.  But if it is not, and it may not be, then why in high heaven haven’t we seen this duo working side by side?  Her books could suit his tone to a tee.

Alternatively . . .

Neil Gaiman and David Small

Neil-Gaiman-2    DavidSmall320

Oh, it could work.  Small’s doing a lot of super cute stuff these days (princesses, kitty cats, muddy fairies, etc.) but anyone who has ever read Stitches knows that he would be a dream Gaiman pairing.  Doesn’t even have to be a picture book.  Could be a novel.  *sigh*  Such a lovely thought.

Kathleen Krull and Raul Colon

KathleenKrull    raul-colon-706247

I had to double check that this pairing hadn’t already happened when I came up with this one.  It feels like it already has, right?  One of our greatest nonfiction authors and the guy who can bring any real life subjects to life with a wave of his remarkable paints.  But odd as it may seem, the two have somehow never produced any books together (that I could find – you are more than free to correct me if you locate one).  What if they did a book about a subject that wasn’t the usual stuff.  He  does a lot of heroes so what if they switched gears and did a Typhoid Mary picture book or a story of the Great Molasses Flood?  Just spitballing here.

Mo Willems and Christian Robinson

MoWillems    ChristianRobinson

Granted GRANTED this is a long shot, but I have my reasons.  You see, in spite of his worldwide domination, Mo has never eschewed pairing with other illustrators as an author.  He did it with Jon J. Muth and he did it more recently with Tony DiTerlizzi.  Now, granted, he and Tony are buds who practically live in the same town, but if you haven’t seen Diva and Flea it is WELL worth your time.  Mo cultivates a rather classic feel in that book, harkening back to children’s books of old.  And that is EXACTLY what I think Mr. Robinson needs.  His books evoke a bygone era of children’s book publishing.  If he and Mo were to collaborate on something with a contemporary city feel but alongside a tale with heart and hope, they’d be on to something big.

Andrea Davis Pinkney and Julie Morstad

AndreaDavisPinkney     JulieMorstad

Okay.  I’ll confess it.  I don’t really have a project in mind for these two.  I just like the idea.  It could be amazing.  Just saying.

Dan Santat with LeUyen Pham

DanSantat     LeUyenPham

Now please bear in mind that Dan has never written anything that wasn’t also illustrated by his own hand.  I aim to change that.  Imagine if Dan branched out more into the authorial side of things.  Clearly he has the chops.  And think about Ms. Pham.  If he wanted to do something high energy she’d be able to match him, and if he wanted to go the slow and meaningful route she’d be there as well.

Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Selznick

LauraAmySchlitz    BrianSelznick

Brian hasn’t illustrated another author’s work in years.  I think his work on Barbara Kerley’s Walt Whitman title might have been the last time.  The likelihood that he’d do it again is low.  And then I remember when he won the Caldecott.  Were you there?  I maintain to this day that it was the best Newbery/Caldecott speech pairing of all time.  There was Laura, resplendent in blues and silks and not merely reciting a speech but honest-to-goodness storytelling.  She was off the podium and amongst us.  It harkened back to the very roots of telling stories in the first place.  And then there was Brian with his screens and videos, a graceful integration of text and electronics with special guest stars (Remy Charlip!) on the side.  Now imagine if she wrote a book and he illustrated it.  Imagine.

Jon Scieszka and Adam Rex

TheScieszkaStare      AdamRex

Adam’s done a lot of work with the aforementioned Mac Barnett over the years and Mac was sort of Jon’s protege when he was first starting out.  Yet Adam has never illustrated anything for Jon, even though it would fit his verbal gymnastics perfectly.

That’s just off the top of my head, but you see where I’m going with it all.  What are your dream author/illustrator pairings?

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. Which illustrator(s) would you pair with Jacqueline Woodson? I was thinking Julie Fogliano images with Woodson text. Do you have author ideas for Shaun Tan?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Fogliano would be fascinating! I’d also love to pair her with Vanessa Brantley-Newton. But then I should have mentioned Ms. Brantley-Newton in my post. When she’s on she is ON!

      Shaun hasn’t done another author’s picture book in years, but if we’re daring to dream then . . . hm. Not Neil Gaiman (they already know each other – too easy). Okay, I’m going to go completely haywire. A picture book by Frances Hardinge, illustrated by Shaun Tan. Make that and I die on the spot from joy.

  2. Eric Carpenter says:

    If we can play this game with novelists writing picture books then I would love to see Erin Stead illustrate a Gary Schmidt picture book.

    Since Julius Lester’s Tales of Uncle Remus (with amazing illustrations by Jerry Pinkney) is approaching its 30th anniversary, it’s high time we revisit them. Why not create some picture books versions of Lester’s retellings with a who’s who of African American illustrators. I would love to see tales illustrated by Shane Evans, Shadra Stickland, R. Gregory Christie, Don Tate, Brian Pinkney, Christopher Myers, Christian Robinson, EB Lewis, Sean Qualls, Kadir Nelson, Ashley Bryan and ideally some new illustrators as well.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      That. That right there, that. New Uncle Remus (which is desperately needed) and with a variety of artists? Brilliant, sir. Well done. Alternatively they could do it as the next First Second cartoon collection, edited by Chris Duffy. “Uncle Remus Comics” they’d call it.


      • Eric Carpenter says:

        AND if our hypothetical, Duffy edited First Second Uncle Remus comic anthology were to come to exist I would love to see Nathan Hale do a short Hazardous Tale in about Joel Chandler Harris’s life as part of the introduction.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        All right. That’s it. This is too good for a mere comment section. You. Me. Someone else as well. We’re doing this thing. Seriously, give me 6 months to get other projects out of the way and then we’re sitting down with Mark Siegel. There is nothing but mind-blowing amazingness attached to this idea. You in?

      • Eric Carpenter says:

        Yes. Send me an email whenever.

  3. I did get to illustrate Jon’s Guys Read humor anthology, though!

    Did you happen to want to see Christian Robinson and me get paired together, by any chance? ‘Cause that’s already happened, the world just doesn’t know it yet.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Now that’s the kind of insider scoop a gal could get used to. You and Christian? I haven’t even seen it and I already love it. At this point I’m not even sure what to hope for. The pairing itself suffices.

  4. Because I’m doing an interview with Neal Porter (soon to be posted at Phil and Erin’s site), I SAW ART TODAY from this book from Adam and Christian. Y’all didn’t hear me ooh’ing and aah’ing from Nashville?

  5. Upon reading this headline, at first I thought we might see more of this:

    But I’m glad I thought wrong – fun idea, BB!

  6. I need to explore Frances Hardinge. She is new to me. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh. You are in for a treat. Try her newest on for size (Cuckoo Song). Then head on over to my favorite (The Lost Conspiracy).

  7. OH! I hadn’t had any combinations in mind but now you’ve gone and put Schlitz/Selznick in my head and now in the comments Hardinge/Tan and I WANT BOTH NOW, they sound so perfect!

  8. I’d want to put two of my favorite Jons together: Scieszka and Klassen. And I’d like to see Patrick McDonnell take on something subversive and weird, like Lemony Snicket or Mac Barnett.