Symbolism, Picture Books and The Dream Bird

Symbolism has always played a huge role in literature and art and continues to contribute to the depth and significance of children’s picture books. I would like to share some of my thoughts behind the symbols and colours that I chose in illustrating Aleesah Darlison’s beautiful bedtime story, The Dream Bird.



Firstly, I wanted to choose two distinctive colour palettes that represented the contrast between the hours when George is awake, and the period of time when George is trying to sleep. I chose a sunlit sky blue for the scenes where George is up and about, and a crimson tone to represent Gran’s warmth and comforting cuddles, as she helps George go to sleep.



The light crimson of Gran’s room and dressing gown, is meaningful for a second reason. It is the same colour as the Dream Bird’s crimson and gold tipped tail feathers. This is the first clue that shows us that Gran is the magical Dream Bird. As we look closer at Gran, we see elegant bird patterns adorn her gown and her room is decorated with long feathers in a vase. As the vision of the dream bird appears, at first very faint and then more clearly, she mirrors the posture of Gran gently leaning over George’s bed.



As George drifts off to sleep, the distinctions between reality and dreamland become blurred. Transparent wisps of light, floating feathers, and soft snowflakes drift around George. His bedsheets seemingly melt into fantasy, as the flowing cloth liquefies into the blue of the ocean.



Gran tells George how the Dream Bird whispers, ‘Sweet Dreams, beautiful child,’ before soaring away through the sky.

On the final page, surrounded in gentle light, Gran kisses George on the forehead. A single feather is suspended on the bedsheet as Gran whispers the exact words spoken by the Dream Bird, ‘Sweet dreams, beautiful child.’



I hope every child can drift off into sweet dreams with the gentle imagery, and beautiful story, of The Dream Bird.


6 responses to “Symbolism, Picture Books and The Dream Bird”

  1. kelliejanebyrnes Avatar

    Gorgeous work, Emma. And it’s so nice to get a peek into your process and to learn about all the amazing layers in this artwork!


    1. Thank you Kellie, much appreciated! It is crazy how much thought goes into illustrating a picture book. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time thinking about the interpretation, as opposed to actually having a pencil in my hand.


  2. I love this explanation of your illustrations for Aleesah’s book, Emma. I must admit that I’m a words rather than images focused reader, so I really appreciate your explanation of these extra layers of meaning you’ve added to the text. The illustrations are gorgeous. I wish you both great success with this book.


    1. Thank you Norah, your comments are greatly appreciated. It is interesting how differently we interpret words and illustrations. One of the reasons I adore picture books is that I always see words and pictures together.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps that’s why you “do” picture books so well, as both writer and illustrator, Emma. The best picture books rely on a collaboration of both.


      2. Thank you so much Norah. I aim to make picture books where the words and illustrations have equal weight, meaning and beauty, as well as stories where the words and pictures would not be complete without each other.

        Liked by 1 person

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