• February 4, 2023

Book Illustrations Are A Bridge For Young Readers : NPR

James E. Ransome, who should own Black Art, Acrylic and Collage on canvas, James E. Ransome hid the caption

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James E. Ransome

The artist James Ransome is a huge fan of Parliament-Funkadelic. So much so that one of their melodies provided the soundtrack when Ransome accepted the Society of Illustrators Gold Award during a virtual ceremony on Thursday.

For his acceptance speech, the award-winning illustrator held up cue cards with his thanks as he joined the music. “That’s what sometimes happens when I’m painting, which is a little different from what I’m illustrating,” he said. (When he illustrates, he listens to jazz.)



James E. Ransome, gospel singer James E. Ransome hide caption

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James E. Ransome

Ransome is known and loved for his illustrations, especially his many children’s books. But at the age of 60 he recently earned an MFA and developed a parallel career as a painter. His Gold Award was for Who Should Own Black Art – a Painting and a Book Jacket – and his acceptance speech recognized some of his influences, including his mentor, Jerry Pinkney, Member of the Hall of Fame for the Society of Illustrators.

“If you watched him in the beginning, you could see his tendencies in that direction from the way he did his illustration,” says Pinkney. “You could see his brushstrokes, his painterly quality; his focus on the story. He approached his illustration as if a painter were approaching a canvas.”

Like Pinkney, Ransome focused on books on African American figures in history, politics, sports, and the arts. Before she was Harriet, Ransome rushes over Harriet Tubman as she takes her passengers to freedom on the subway. In Game Changers, he takes to the court with tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams.

Game Changers: The Tale of Venus and Serena Williams, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

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Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster

In My Story, My Dance – written by his wife and frequent contributor, Lesa Cline-Ransome – Ransome illustrates the story of Robert Battle who went from a boy in leg supports to a professional dancer, choreographer, and director of a world-famous dance company. Ransome’s illustrations unfold almost like a movie – some are multiple line drawings on a page, overlaid with pastel colors of an exuberant young man in motion.

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

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Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster

In many of Ransome’s books he will combine his pictures and drawings with pieces of paper and collage the pictures.

“I have trash cans and boxes of papers everywhere …” he says. “It’s like a quilter – a quilter who takes an old shirt … it becomes part of the quilt. And that’s what I find fascinating – patterns, shapes and colors and how to put them back together.”

It’s kind of an analogy to the composition of the text that Ransome gave as a starting point for his illustrations.

“I’m trying to find something between the words, between the sentence and the structure of the sentence,” he explains. “I’m trying to find some kind of something that the author doesn’t necessarily describe or speak. There is a soul. That’s what I call it, a kind of space that I strive for.”



James E. Ransome, Quilt Folks, Acrylic and Paper Collage James E. Ransome hide caption

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James E. Ransome

James E. Ransome, Quilt Folks, acrylic and paper collage

James E. Ransome

For the moment, Ransome intends to maintain both his art practice and his work as an illustrator. He sees the books as a natural bridge for young readers.

“I feel like, you know, I want to educate them somehow, or be that bridge between what’s in their hands, or hold them and go to a museum.”

On the door leading out of Ransome’s studio there is a saying in multicolored letters that is attributed to the painter Edward Degas: “Art is not what you see, but what you let others see.”

For the artist and illustrator James Ransome, this applies to his work, be it in a book or on a wall.



James E. Ransome, love, paper on vinyl tile James E. Ransome hide caption

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James E. Ransome

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