Chances are likely that if you’re reading with a child, he/she will urge you to stop and take a closer look at the illustrations.
Chances are likely they will notice a detail you would have missed, had you not slowed down.
Chances are likely when you slow down, you’ll begin to savor those illustrations.
Chances are likely you’ll realize that many illustrations are of incredible artistic quality, from the smallest of brush strokes, to layers of many forms of media, to the white space that leaves room for the imaginations and draws readers in to the heart of the story.
And this is how I fell in love with author and illustrator Jason Chin and his realistic paintings, found in both fiction and nonfiction.
A few years ago, I was on a hunt to add more nonfiction picture books to our school library. Admittedly, this isn’t my favorite genre, and I have to set time aside to do my homework. My daughter and I headed to the public library and perused the nonfiction with a specific goal, grab eye-catching nonfiction picture books about topics that are of high-interest or are lacking in our current collection. Lucky for us (and my students!), Chin’s books were included (3 times!) in our large bag of titles!
Although Jason has illustrated fiction picture books for other writers, some of his most notable work is the nonfiction books he writes AND illustrates based on topics that are of high interest to him. On his website (jasonchin.net/biography), Jason explains that he “tries to explain science with imaginative storytelling.” He also says that whatever he decides to write about, he personally and physically explores, a concept worth sharing with young readers as a means to further validate the realistic aspect of both the text and illustrations. For example, he writes that he camped with scorpions in the bottom of the Grand Canyon while researching his award-winning book, Grand Canyon and that he swam with sharks when researching Coral Reefs.
One has to wonder if Chin’s childhood, which included frequent moves, influenced his decision to write on a wide variety of scientific topics, from redwood trees (Redwoods) to geological features (Island: A Story of the Galapagos and Grand Canyon). He attended Syracuse University and studied illustration, but notes on his website that meeting and learning from illustrator Trina Schart Hyman as being most influential in his work. Working as a bookseller at a store in New York City inspired him to illustrate children’s books. He lives in South Burlington, Vermont with his wife (fellow illustrator, Deirdre Gill), two kids, and cat.
Let’s jump into why Chin is at the top of my author/illustrator list with some examples that sets his work apart. On his blog, Chin describes a four-step process to creating much of his art.
- Brainstorming and sketching kick off the process. He does this over and over, on a small scale first. When he thinks he’s happy enough, he’ll draw the same size as the actual page in the book.
- Next, he traces his sketch onto think watercolor paper using a lightbox. When done, he soaks the paper in water for 5 minutes, then staples into his painting board!
- In the third step, he uses Frisket masks to block specific sections of the painting he’d like to remain white, ensuring that the other layers of colors don’t seep through. This looks really time-consuming!
- More layering of paints and detail work, including using goache (a type of pain) and q-tips! Finally, he can take off the masks and paint those areas as well.
“With vivid imagination, a crystal-clear grasp of the facts, and brilliant artwork, this illuminating look at one of the planet’s most fascinating features will entrance young readers.”―Booklist, starred review
“A real eye-opener. . . . The text clearly and succinctly presents information, which is effectively illustrated in the colorful paintings. Even better, the narrative element in the artwork soars, promising to engage children imaginatively as well as intellectually.”
Chin takes the reader on a wild adventure, as the main character picks up a copy of Redwoods on the subway ride. As he exits the train, he finds himself in the redwood forest. He climbs, explores, and swings as Chin shares incredible facts and figures and a cute squirrel keeps the character company.
Island: A Story of the Galapagos
“Chin’s gorgeous illustrations include sweeping double-page spreads of the island and its inhabitants…” ―Horn Book Magazine, starred
Other books written and illustrated by Jason Chin:
★ “Complex concepts (such as local galaxy groups and super clusters) are clearly defined throughout in simple captions elucidating Chin’s watercolor and gouache art. . . . Extensive back matter delves deep into current understandings of the size, age, and complexity of the universe. Sources are listed along with child-friendly websites for further exploration of the big and small ideas presented in this out-of-this-world science picture book.”—The Horn Book, Starred Review
Other books (fiction and nonfiction), illustrated by Jason Chin
It is my sincere hope that you choose to pick up one of the titles above to explore with your children! In my opinion, it is rare to have an author possess the ability to break down complex, scientific topics AND be able to paint with such talent as Jason Chin. These works are just waiting on a shelf for you to explore.
Children’s Literacy Foundation
Publisher’s Weekly Q & A with Jason Chin
Cover photos, illustrations, and reviews are from Amazon, Goodreads, and personal photo collection.