the power of illustrations to tell the story



Both of these picture books were created by the team of Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo. Both are awesome examples of a picture book text that is enhanced, illuminated, imbued with irony and humor by illustrations. They are quite a team indeed.

(See also Andrea Beaty and David Roberts for another wonderful author/illustrator  collaborating pair.)


BRIEF THIEF by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2013).

It’s so irreverent. It mentions poo, which kids get a huge kick out of. It’s about a chameleon and a common problem everyone can relate to. No more toilet paper!

So what does Leon the chameleon use instead?

“These old underpants here will do the trick!”


(click image(s) to enlarge)


He figures nobody cares about those old underpants with holes in them anymore.

But then, he hears a voice:

“Hey! Who do you think you are?”

It identifies itself as Leon’s conscience. It makes Leon feel pretty badl about using those abandoned underpants for his business.


So Leon washes the underpants and puts them back where he found them.

And that’s that. Except, only through pictures, the reader finds out it wasn’t Leon’s conscience after all! We find out who those underpants belonged to! Then, last and best, we see where that owner wears them! And it’s not what you’d expect.

Oh no, those aren’t dirty old underpants with holes. Oh no! They’re…







…bunny’s superhero mask!!

Hahahaha. Priceless, right?? And it’s only accomplished through visuals. That’s where the success and surprise of the joke lies.


Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 4.59.35 PM



THE DAY I LOST MY SUPERPOWERS, also by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2014). 

This one depends on the visual story throughout. If you were to read just the text, you might think this little girl really does have superpowers. After all, she says she does so matter of factly you just might believe her. I would.



It’s only through pictures we see on the page that we know where those superpowers come from:

She flies because her father throws her in the air.

She makes things disappear by eating them (when those things are cupcakes).

She goes through walls by poking a sock puppet through a hole. And so on.







The power and enjoyment of the story depends on the reader seeing the truth about the narrator’s “powers.” If we were told in text, it wouldn’t be as satisfying.


And this is the beauty of picture books, a form that puts words and pictures together so they can mingle and tell stories and surprise us.


For another, older example of a picture book whose illustrations tell a different story than the text, see Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin.



Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for images!

14 Responses to the power of illustrations to tell the story

  1. Yes! Exactly! In the Facebook Debut Picture Book study group, we’re talking about this right now. Illustrations should be at least half of the book. They should take the reader to a place that complements the text not just depict everything the words are telling the reader.

  2. Heather Pierce Stigall says:

    This sounds like Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. If you just read the words you’d lose half the story!

  3. hmmmmm says:

    Happy to find your blog — thanks for posting on 12×12.

  4. Juliana Lee says:

    Great examples! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Stacy Couch says:

    The super-hat/underwear. Love that. I do wonder how, as an author, one conveys the visual irony without a slew of art notes. I’d love to see these mss., pre-illustration. Hmm…

  6. Juliana Lee says:

    Hey there! I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. Have fun!

  7. Bonnie Eng says:

    Hahhah….the superhero mask…love the element of surprise!

  8. Pingback: Enormous Smallness – Design Of The Picture Book

  9. Pingback: picture books in which the visual is vital - This Picture Book Life

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