Children’s book ambassador Martijn van der Linden: ‘Illustrations arouse enthusiasm’

Martijn van der Linden is the new children’s book ambassador. It is the first time in the Netherlands that an illustrator has been asked for the office. ‘Illustrations in children’s books? It doesn’t have to stop after primary school’.

Joukje Akveld

He has a busy autumn. To start with, there was Children’s Book Week last month. Martijn van der Linden (43) does not share the negative reactions about uninterested children and hard-to-maintain classes that some of his colleagues posted on social media. “It was busy and fun. Maranke and I have seen a lot of kids. Every time we went, we felt the enthusiasm of such a group to work with Bob Popcorn.”

Maranke Rinck is Van der Linden’s partner, who he has been with since his debut The Prince Child (2004) collaborations. She writes, he draws. Their latest creation is Bob Popcorn, a whimsical corn kernel that explodes when angry and turns into popcorn. Tens of thousands of children have now become acquainted with the explosive little man. His creators receive fan mail in the form of Bob drawings, Bob crafts, and Bob hugs. The fourth installment in the series has recently been released, Bob Popcorn – Master Chef.

Van der Linden is familiar with the Pisa reports, where children’s enjoyment of reading has been declining for years, and the Netherlands is also dangling at the bottom from an international perspective. Still, he is optimistic. “I believe that the trend can be reversed. Books can indeed play a big role in a child’s life. If you just pay attention to it. As long as it is read aloud in school, so that children understand that there is something beautiful to be found in the world of children’s books.”

Teleac cartoon series

He has been appointed Children’s Book Ambassador for two years to stimulate enthusiasm for the genre. “I would like to see how to combat aversion to books by using illustrations. Children’s books are more than pages filled with words. For example, you can also start drawing from the illustrations in a book.”

He himself was fascinated by the Teleac course as a child Cartoon and cartoon drawing by Hanco Kolk and Peter de Wit. “It came with a book. That book had a huge impact on me. When I was asked for this position, I thought: how cool would it be if there was also a book like this about illustration for children? That they realize that drawing is a profession that books are made by someone.” He talked about it with his publisher, who embraced the idea. “I want to let my colleagues have a say, and of course it must contain a lot of drawings. Above all, this book must radiate joy.”

He also wants to expand his field of expertise. “Illustrations in books? It doesn’t have to stop after high school. Make sure there are also illustrated books for teenagers. You can address young people in a different way with pictures than with text.”

Van der Linden himself illustrated Erna Sassen’s youth novel Without title. “Art and drawing play an important role in that book. For me it is not a requirement. Young adult books with a different topic also get an extra layer if you add illustrations.” To be clear, he’s not talking about graphic novels – “it’s closer to comics” – but really fiction.

Martijn van der Linden illustrates the Bob Popcorn series about a fancy corn kernel that explodes when angry and turns into popcorn.Picture Martijn van der Linden

As far as he’s concerned, you can even expand illustrations to books for adults. It happens now and then – Annemarie van Haeringen made drawings for Toon Tellegen’s animal stories, Sylvia Weve illustrated work by Annejet van der Zijl – but Van der Linden, who himself made illustrations for Arthur Japin’s Dogs for life, it should be much more often. “In this way, you create more prestige for the illustration profession. And then the paper book remains something nice to hold. An illustrated e-book has a different look.”

Reading tape

To spread his message he goes into the country. The first performances are over. Teachers, librarians, reading consultants, art academies – as a children’s book ambassador, he expands his target group to also include adults. Because reading is so important to excite children, he wants to create a reading ribbon for people who make a special achievement in that area.

And following the example of Quentin Blake, England’s first Children’s laureate, he dreams of a platform for artists. “In London, Blake has set up a center for children’s book illustrations. Something like that would be very cool here too, although I don’t think I’m the one to realize it. In England there is more money for such initiatives than here. But it’s a nice project to think about. Children’s book illustrations are still too often in the corner of ‘oh, it’s for children.’ But Raoul Deleo, who has just won The Golden Brush, does not come from the children’s book industry. Terra Ultima was his debut.”

A good children’s book has a magnetic effect, Van der Linden believes. Children pick it up and can’t put it down. Illustrations can play a big role in this. As a result, a page view looks a little less intimidating.”

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