We had the opportunity to interview Elsa Klever, an outstanding illustrator and fine artist whose books include Taxi Ride with Victor (Prestel Junior). She won the 2015 Austrian Children’s Book Award and has been shortlisted twice for the World Illustration Awards.

What made you decide to become an illustrator?
My love of painting and drawing and the wish to create children’s books. I also prefer to have a commission—”a frame”—in which I can be creative.

Who or what has been a major influence on your illustrating style?
I developed my style in art school, so the teachers, the people around me, and the experiences I made were an important influence. I’ve also been influenced artists I admire like Maurice Sendak or Michael Sowa. But my style is still changing (slightly) and developing and is influenced by the things I experience in my daily life, and I honestly hope it never stops!

Elsa Klever | photo by Jonas Wresch

Which children’s book most inspired you as a child or in recent years?
As a child: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
In recent years: Don’t Cross the Line, written by Isabel Minhós Martins and illustrated by the great Bernardo P. Carvalho.

What is a typical workday like?
Until recently, I got up around 8 a.m. and started my day with a big cup of coffee. I then went to my studio which is luckily only 5 minutes from home and which I share with 5 other creatives. I usually began with answering emails/organizing things and ended the day with my favorite part: creating illustrations. But a few weeks ago, my son was born…so this routine might change a little in the future.

Illustration from 189 Canaries

Where do the ideas for your books come from?
That varies a lot. Some ideas just came to me, one story was a dream I had, and often an author or a publisher come to me with an idea or a text.

How closely do you work with the author?
That depends. For 189 Canaries, Dieter and I worked very closely. We developed the book together, we met regularly and discussed text and illustrations, and we went on a research trip to the Harz together were we visited a very special little canary bird museum.

Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
Usually in my daily life, sometimes in dreams…

If not an illustrator, what would you have been?
I honestly have no plan B.
When I was a little child, I wanted to become a dentist, an ice-cream vendor or a tightrope walker.

189 Canaries, written by Dieter Böge and illustrated by Elsa Klever

Why do you believe reading is vital for children?
Besides being fun, it opens new horizons for children. It helps expand a child‘s experiences and depth of knowledge. Reading enhances development of language, critical thinking skills, and creativity. And it improves focus, memory, empathy and communication skills.
Oh, and let’s not forget: reading children’s books together can also be an important bonding time between child and parents. So, we have lots of good reasons to start with books as early as possible.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Having my books published and seeing them in a bookstore… that never stops being awesome. Also, having children or parents write me that a book of mine has brightened their day. 189 Canaries being nominated for the German Youth Literature Award was pretty great, too.

Illustration from 189 Canaries

What do you hope kids learn from 189 Canaries?
Well, first of all kids and adults (it‘s a book for everyone) can learn very interesting facts about the history of canary birds (did you know canary birds were used in mines as an early-warning signal for a low oxygen level?). But they can also learn about traveling in the past, about homesickness, geography, feeling empathy, creativity…

Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
My favorite food is cheese, my favorite animals are cats, and I‘d love to do illustrations for a Wes Anderson movie one day.

Cover photo by Jonas Wresch


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