Researching illustrators of children’s books can sometimes be a challenging task. Many are freelance workers so they may only illustrate a small number of books as well as doing other illustrating jobs. Combine that with the fact that some books don’t mention the illustrator and so using WorldCat or any other cataloging site is rather useless. One example is Vivien Kubbos. Another complicating factor about Vivien is the fact that she does not desire fame or attention and therefore does not have a website or do any interviews. Vivien Kubbos could have been famous as she was the originator of the Sarah Kay Collection.
The Sarah Kay Collection was started by Valentine Publishing in the early 1970s and quickly became popular among girls throughout Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe and Latin America. Sarah Kay illustrations were featured mostly on greeting cards, swap cards and postcards. Sarah Kay fell out of fashion in the 1990s; however this only lasted until 2005 when she relaunched, presumably with new illustrators doing the work. The thing I find adorable and gorgeous about Sarah Kay images are they are the complete antithesis of the ideas pushed on children in our current society. The girls in these images do not worry about what they wear and if they get holes in their clothes—they simply repair them with patches. There is no obsession with shoes either: the children are currently wearing none and back in the 1970s and ’80s they wore thick leather shoes, sandals or sneakers. The idyllic imagery also adds to the illustrations’ appeal. Sarah Kay merchandise can still be purchased on their website.
Vivien Kubbos also illustrated many of the books in the Pony Pals book series, written by Jeanne Betancourt and published by Scholastic. Frustratingly not all the books mention the illustrator’s name. The images I used came from the book Western Pony, written by Betancourt and published in 1999. All images are drawn in pencil.
These images clearly show how easily Vivien can change her style and what a hugely skillful artist she is. I find the images of the people, and more so the horses, to be very realistic.
Finally we have what must be Vivien’s defining work: The Wizard of Jenolan, written by Nuri Mass and published by Just Solutions in 1993. The Wizard of Jenolan is a rewriting and re-release of a book first written by Nuri Mass in 1946, so if anyone thinks of buying the book, the images are only in the 1993 re-release. All the images are drawn in pencil. The story is about Thel who, under the spell of “Something”, follows a Wallaby down a tunnel into the Jenolan Caves. While in the cave system Thel discovers that the caves are not as they seem to other visitors and the outside world; she has many magical experiences such as travelling back in time and encountering creatures that want to borrow her reflection. She also talks directly with the caves themselves which teach her about how they were formed. The Wallaby eventually leads her back out but Thel then falls asleep so that when she wakes up she is not quite sure if she ever did follow the wallaby into the cave or that she dreamed it.
Vivien illustrated many other children’s books, did painting for commemorative merchandise and in retirement spent most of her time painting, though these subjects are outside the scope of this blog and so are not displayed. Additionally, given that she is not always credited, there are probably many works by Vivien that are yet to be acknowledged.