3 German illustrators whose work you may or may not know*

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Detail of poster insert to Das Kind und die Katze. Illustration by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

My friend Diana, from Germany, is visiting this week. We met back when I lived (and studied illustration) in Leipzig. Diana is a linguist; she studies an endangered language in Nepal and has interesting things to say about the role of picture books in endangered language communities. More on that some other time.

But since I’m thinking about Germany today, I wanted to mention a few German illustrators whose work I like a lot. The first is Wolf Erlbruch. He’s beloved in Germany but not especially known here, although his wonderful Duck, Death, and the Tulip (Ente, Tod, und Tulpe), made it to these shores a couple years ago (scroll down).

Erlbruch does a couple of illustrated calendars every year; Diana brought me this year’s postcard calendar. (Woohoo!!) Speaking of animals playing sports!


August. Illustration by Wolf Erlbruch.


November. Illustration by Wolf Erlbruch.

Next is Rotraut Susanne Berner. You might remember her from the kerfuffle that arose when Boyds Mills wanted to publish one of her “crowd books” (Wimmelbücher) that happened to contain the tiniest bit of nudity. For me, the episode brought back fond memories of searching for the naughtiest bits in the Where’s Waldo books. Anyone remember the topless lady on the beach?

Anyway, these images are from Berner’s Das Kind und die Katze (The Child and the Cat), one in a small-press series called Die Tollen Hefte, which means something like “the wonderful booklets.” These little books are designed for maximum artistry at minimum cost: the trim size, about 5 1/2 by 8 inches, is just small enough that an entire 32-page book can be printed on a single press sheet. Most (if not all) are done in preseparated illustrations and printed in spot colors.

I think the colors in this book are particularly beautiful, and I love the textured line:



Illustrations by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

Finally, there’s Axel Scheffler, best known to Anglophones—and the world, I suppose—as the illustrator of The Gruffalo. (Actually, Scheffler lives in England and illustrates a lot of books there, so is it fair to call him a German illustrator? Someone ask Christoph Niemann.) Scheffler has done a couple of Hefte. I am fond of this one, Über das Halten von Eichhörnchen (How to Keep a Pet Squirrel), the text of which was taken from a 1910 English children’s encyclopedia.

This Heft edition is from 2002 and has since been re-illustrated and published as a trade edition in both German and English. The tongue-in-cheek illustrations are a great match for the instructional text:


“Squirrels are certainly charming animals.” Illustration by Axel Scheffler.


“It’s unkind to catch an animal that leads such a free and active life after it’s lived through childhood and tasted the freedom of the woods.” Illustration by Axel Scheffler.

*Total linkbait title.

1 Comment

  1. Funny – when I first read the subject, I thought, is WordPress marketing me based on google info? Then I saw your site title and opened! I studied Grafik Design in Braunschweig and am already a big fan of Erlbruch’s. I recently discovered Scheffler from his collaborations with Donaldson. (My daughter just recently got to see him at the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hannover.) So thanks for introducing me to Berner – reminding me strongly of Wanda Gag. Great post – again!


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