Illustrating the Ingalls Family

Renee Graff

My mother is a huge fan of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She read them to us when I was growing up and I read them myself as a young adult. They’re a fun series with some wonderful writing.*

The editions that I read growing up are the ones probably most familiar to anyone reading this and had illustrations by Garth Williams. He is a classic American illustrator and is most famous for the Little House books, Charlotte’s Web, and a variety of Little Golden Books. His illustrations are warm and charming and make the Ingalls’ homes seem cozy and inviting wherever they went.

Garth Williams’ cover for
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s
Little House in the Big Woods

Prior to Williams, the series was illustrated by Helen Sewell, but her versions are very difficult to find these days and have (to my knowledge) never been reprinted since the Williams ones were introduced. Still, they are sweet and I like them.

But what happens when a series has such iconic illustrations, as Garth Williams’ are, and you want to make spin-off books? You need to find someone whose art style is similar enough to evoke the same feelings! That’s how Renee Graff came to illustrate the Little House books.

I grew up familiar with her art because she did work for the Pleasant Company on things featuring the character I had a doll of – Kirsten Larsen. Her art has a softness that I have always loved. It’s definitely a good match for the Little House books.

Renee Graff’s cover for the Little House inspired
picture book Dance at Grandpa’s

This week, I came across this article by Graff that talks about her process for illustrating the Little House books and shows the steps involved in creating the images and several pieces of art from the books. I found it fascinating both for the process steps and for the discussion of how she approached the project. It’s not easy to illustrate books with both iconic illustrations that came before her and with real people before that. I love that she traveled to the locations Laura lived to research her life!

I’m not typically a big fan of picture books inspired by classic novels, but the ones from the Little House series that Renee worked on are actually really cute and well done. And I adored the paper dolls! Several of them are still in print and should be easy to find if you wanted to check them out!

*I know there is quite a bit of controversy around them, particularly around the attitudes presented in them regarding Native Americans. There are very valid concerns, but I also think it’s valid to learn that pioneers were very afraid of the Native Americans. Nor does the fear Laura remembered from growing up change the quality of the stories or the writing. I would suggest pairing the series with something like The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich for a wonderful counterpoint perspective.

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