Why Picture Books Are Important by Ted Lewin

by Dianne on November 19, 2014

Ted Lewin book cover

Why Picture Books Are Important by Ted Lewin
We weren’t big readers in my house. There were very few picture books, but my father was a great storyteller. He would regale my kid brother and me with stories about characters he made up. Snippy the Snooper and Sad-eyed Sadie were two of my favorites. His words were making pictures in my mind. I can still see them clearly.

I didn’t read much, but I drew all the time. Making pictures was all I wanted to do. My first real experience with picture books was while I attended Pratt Institute. A wonderful professor there instilled in me a lifelong love of reading. Three of my classmates, Tomie DePaola, and Anita and Arnold Lobel, were already making picture books. I thought my work wasn’t suited for young readers. But, the longer I worked as an illustrator the “younger” my work got. I did YA jackets, children’s magazines and text book readers.

I did my first picture book in 1985 called Faithful Elephants, a story of innocents in war. It was a sad, tragic true story, and I wanted badly to make images that would support the text. I think they helped to show how senseless war is. From then on I was hooked on telling a story in a sequence of pictures and as someone once said, “the drama of turning the page.” To me it was like a slowed down motion picture.

I’m an avid bird watcher. When a child looks at one of my picture books I want them to experience the same thing I did when I looked through binoculars at a gorgeous blue jay for the first time. I had to know what that bird was called. The same thing happened when I put on a face mask and gazed at a coral reef teeming with life. Picture books do this. They expose a child to the visual wonders of the world and help them learn to express themselves through words.

I work in a representational style. I try to reproduce the world in all its diversity.
Whether I write and illustrate a story based on my own experiences or illustrate someone else’s story, for me and I hope for my readers it’s the same thing, a journey of a lifetime.

Ted Lewin

Ted Lewin

About Ted Lewin
Ted Lewin always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. He was influenced by the work of N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. Ted’s career began doing illustrations for adventure magazines but eventually devoted his full time to writing and illustrating picture books. Ted is an avid traveler and many of his books are inspired by trips to the world’s wild places. In 1994, Ted was awarded a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations in Peppe, The Lamplighter. In 2007, he won a silver medal in the Society of Illustrators annual Show, and the Hamilton King Award for the best illustration by a member.

Picture Book Month Daily Theme: Birds

Curriculum Connections

Ted Lewin’s Animals Work is a wonderful springboard for further study. Use the map in the back of the book (for example: India) combined with its corresponding spread (for example: “An elephant lifts”) to research more information.

After conducting a guided Internet or library search (for example: how elephants are used for work in India), children can write a short grade-appropriate report about what they found, adding drawings or photos when helpful.

Correlates to the Common Core Writing Text standards: W.K.2,6,7,8; W.1.2,6,7,8; W.2.2,6,7,8; W.3.2.6,7,8; W.4.2,6,7,8; W.5.2,6,7,8

LIBRARIANS and TEACHERS OF YOUNGER GRADES: Before reading aloud Animals Work by Ted Lewin, focus only on the illustrations. Ask the children what the animal is doing in the picture. Then, look to the words on the page. Using phonetics can the children read the text? Practice “reading” the text and pictures together several times through allowing each to inform the other.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy Myers November 19, 2014 at 12:45 am

What a great post. I absolutely love your work. I have many of your books and refer to them often, especially when I’m stuck. I also paint in watercolors, representationally. Thank you for your post.


:Donna November 19, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Ted, your work is phenomenal (so is Betsy’s!) and in hearing you mention you went to Pratt alongside Tomie DePaola and the Lobels is so impressive. I had the opportunity to attend Pratt in 1975 (I wonder when you attended!), but didn’t do it. I sometimes regret that decision! It wasn’t my journey, but I’m glad it was yours! You ultimately made your way into the world of children’s books and aren’t we lucky for that? 🙂


Joanne Roberts November 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm

It’s interesting to hear you thought your work “unsuited” to children’s publishing. I have been a fan since I first saw your paintings on the cover of Cricket Magazine. I have a sneaking suspicion you also illustrated a story in my sixth grade reader. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to track it down, but it was a story that has stayed with me for over thirty years, one that made me realize I wanted to be an illustrator too. Thank-you.


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