Books·My Life in Books

The 5 books Barbara Reid would love to illustrate

The author and illustrator shares the stories that she'd love to model in clay.
Barbara Reid is a picture book illustrator and author whose award-winning artwork is created with plasticine. (Ian Crysler)

Barbara Reid is the award-winning author and illustrator of more than a dozen books for children, including including Picture a Tree and Sing a Song of Mother Goose. Her latest book, Picture the Sky, explores the beauty in the sky above us.

Picture The Sky was a finalist for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. The $50,000 prize is the richest for Canadian kids literature — awarded annually to the creators of one book for readers up to the age of 12. 

Using plasticine, Reid creates textured and colourful illustrations. Here are some of the books she would love to model in clay.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson was a Finnish author, illustrator and painter. ( York Review Books)

"Tove Jansson is the author and illustrator of the fabulous Moomintroll books for children and wise grownups. In this short novel, Jansson captures the essence of a summer spent in nature, and comes as close to figuring out the meaning of life as anything I've read. In The Summer Book, a six-year-old girl and her grandmother spend a summer on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Together they hike the coastline, build bark boats, create a miniature village, weather storms and care for each other as best they can. Their conversations touch on love, life and death, from the perspective of one who is just beginning her life and one who is nearing the end. There is no sentimentality, and plenty of wisdom. The ramshackle cabin and the rugged nature around them have as much character as the humans. Anyone who has spent a summer near the water in Canada will feel at home in this world. I would love to illustrate this book with drawings in a sketch book style, just for the opportunity to return to this tiny perfect island." 

The Tiger by John Vaillant

John Vaillant is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic. (John Sinal/Knopf Canada)

"Set in a Russia's remote far east, this book tells the story of a battle for survival between a man-eating tiger and Yuri Trush, the lead tracker charged with hunting the tiger down before it can kill again. The book is packed with detail and has been compared to a Siberian Moby-Dick. I loved the slow build up of tension and was rooting for both man and beast. The contrast between the harsh frozen landscape and the violent life force of the tiger would be a treat to illustrate in a bold graphic style. Imagine the whites, blacks, blues — and slashes of orange!" 

The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author best known for his fairy tales. (Thora Hallager/Big & Small)

"I love the weirdness of all of Andersen's stories (and skim past the religious content as much as possible). He creates worlds that are fantastic, but his matter of fact manner of telling the tales makes them completely real. The emotions are very human, but the drama is larger than life. It would be a dream to create a piece for each story in a collection. The Wild Swans is one of my favourites because the imagery is so vivid: 11 enchanted swans carrying their sister Elise over a stormy sea; Elise gathering stinging nettles in a haunted graveyard at midnight; the last-minute breaking of the spell that restores the brothers to human form. And a true Andersen touch: one brother left with a swan's wing for an arm. Illustrating this story would be like designing an opera with sets, costumes and lighting. Magical!"

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Vancouver-born author Jonathan Auxier won the 2015 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for his chilling novel The Night Gardener. (CBC Books)

"This gothic horror story for kids has it all: abandoned siblings forced to work in a creepy mansion whose inhabitants live under a curse, a terrifying night visitor and a sinister tree with a mind of its own. I love the existing cover and black and white interior artwork by Patrick Arrasmith; the wood-cut style perfectly suits the old-fashioned setting of the story. I would have picked this book up as a kid based on the cover alone. But… if a luxury edition with a mix of full-colour pages and line drawings is ever considered, I would put my hand up. The gloomy palette, nighttime lighting and gnarly twisted tree limbs just scream plasticine."

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Peter Wohlleben is a German forester and author. ( Books)

"Because: Trees! Science!"