Photos, Artwork, or Both?

By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press

Each of Lerner’s imprints has its own identity and defining characteristics. One part of Millbrook’s identity is that its books may be illustrated with photos, original artwork, or a combination of the two. Having these options is great, but it also means that we have an important decision to make with every new book and series—what sort of visuals will best fit with the text and convey the information we’re trying to get across?

A few questions we ask when deciding what kind of visuals we want are: Who is the intended audience for this book? What photos are available for this topic? How many photos/pieces of art do we expect to use for this book? If we want to use artwork, do we want one illustrator for the whole series, or a different illustrator for each book?

For our new series Life in Ancient Civilizations, we wanted to give readers a sense of what life was like in major ancient civilizations from around the world. We thought that illustrations would help create a fuller picture of life in those cultures—we could show an Aztec woman rolling out a tlaxcalli (tortilla) with a metate instead of simply showing a photo of a metate in a museum. We could show Aztec warriors dressed for battle rather than just photo of a shield. We wanted to give our series a distinct look, so decided to work with an illustrator with a background in comic books and graphic novels—Samuel Hiti. But the artifacts are interesting too, so each book also includes about 10 photographs of objects associated with that culture.


For the Gross Body Science series, we could have used only photographs, but we didn’t want things to get too gross. We also wanted the books to be funny while still including solid scientific information about boogers, earwax, scabs, and more. So in this case, we decided go with a roughly 50/50 mix of illustrations and photos. Michael Slack’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to text like, “Phlegm is not the name of a rock band or a slang word for your little sister. It’s a thick, sticky material that’s released by glands in your bronchi—the airways of your lungs.”