About

I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, where I trained to be a graphic designer with a strong focus on critical thinking. My approach to graphic design and communication problem-solving has not changed much. I learned by observing how similar people are, whether they are learning to read, or running large corporations, and I put those observations into my work.

After a decade of designing books for children and young adults, I became a children’s author and illustrator as well. I love working with children and teachers or parents. They help me improve my work and keep it relevant. 

I have always believed that it’s is worth celebrating how people are more similar than different. I have also seen over the last few decades how much better it is for children of all backgrounds to see or read themselves in books.

Since 2017 I’ve been running an independent publishing company creating and producing naturally inclusive books for very young children called Alanna Max

I am represented by Clare Wallace of Darley Anderson

Here is a long list of my books for children:

Career Highlights

2020 

  • Astrid Lingren Memorial Award (ALMA) 2021 nomination
  • Winner STEAM AWARD for Early Years picturebooks 2020 
  • World Book Day Steering Committee
  • Judge, Wales Book of the Year 2020
  • Bank Street College (USA) – 20 best books of the Year 
  • Launched 17Promises magazine in partnership with UN, Govt of Zimbabwe

2019

  • Nominated- Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards 2019 (UK)
  • Mentor, Pathways into Publishing
  • Included in Breaking New Ground as one of the most influential black authors/illustrators in the UK
  • Honorable Mention, Moveable Books Society Meggendorfer Prize for Best Paper Engineering (US)

2017 

  • Owner and publisher, Alanna Max 

2015 

  • Awarded one of the 50 best books on diversity in the last 50 years by the Guardian Newspaper
  • Centre for Literature in Primary Education core list (Early Years) UK
  • African American Literature Bookclub (AALB) Top 154 Recommended African-American Children’s Books 

2014 

  • Launched Chicken Newspaper for Children. A quarterly printed tabloid-sized publication for primary school children

1994 – present

  • Over 70 books for children worldwide in more than 10 languages

1984– Silver Medal for illustration- Brno Biennale

Download my CV

8 comments

  1. We have just seen Ken at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and bought a copy of his book The Flute. Our little girl loved his performance of his books with the live drumming and Ken was fun, engaging and kind. Thank you for a lovely morning.

    1. We love the Lenny books. They are hard to find in the USA, but worth the effort and price. They are favorites of both my children.

  2. Max’s Letter has been an absolute favourite book of every child through my house. Shame I haven’t been able to purchase any more copies here is Australia. It would make the ideal gift.

  3. I earned my private pilots license when my twin boys were toddlers. Their favorite book of all was , “Little Red Plane”, We enjoyed flying together almost nightly with that wonderful book. Thank You for creating such a interesting creative children`s book. One day soon my grand son and i will go flying again with it. Jay G

  4. I recently purchased a couple copies of Big Blue Engine and Big Red Fire Engine as gifts. My 21-year old son, home from uni, found them and on opening and revisiting the train-in-motion started quiet crying. He’d worn out nearly every moving part of these books as a little guy and the magic is clearly still there. Thank you Ken Wilson-Max for all that book art magic and the ones you’ve created since!

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Live Virtual events

The pandemic made us all rethink how we work, or learn. Many of us found that we can still achieve by doing things differently. Authors and illustrators who relied on school and library visits had to adjust too, just like the places which relied on them visiting and performing in person.

In the end, we learned what we like, or don’t like about being more in charge of our days. We have also come to realise that this change to hybrid working might be long-lasting. Working on camera is now normal, for instance, so much so that If you hated it in the beginning, you may not even think about it now.

I’ve been in several live virtual events in the last two years, broadcasting to more people than ever before from my living room and it has been good to have the extra reach. However, not being in the same space as readers isn’t great. This must be the same for many others.

I will add links to some of the events on this page.

The Centre of Literature in Primary Education (CLPE) runs several programmes for teachers and publishing professionals. The Power of Pictures is a project designed to help teachers choose and use picture books across the primary school, understand the process that goes into developing a picture book and develop meaningful relationships between authors and schools. It was originally devised by CLPE’s Charlotte Hacking and author/illustrator and CLPE Patron, Ed Vere in 2013. 

Old is new again

The letterpress studio

I came across Officina do Cego, run by a group of crafts and art people in Lisbon, thanks to Kristine Martinova. She introduced us to the president of the Association, Nuno Ramos, who explained how they teach and make work using screen and letterpress printing. They make their own books, so also teach bookbinding.

Walking into the place I found machines that fondly reminded me of my early days in graphic design. I started young, around 15 years old, working during school holidays in the Maviyane Project.

These were the days before computers in the office and we did all the artwork by hand. I mean, totally by hand. We traced letters to make layouts and stuck things down with hot wax. We calculated the size of type that would work for a book using a formula and then sent that to the typesetters who sent us back rolls of text on photographic paper. If it wasn’t right the whole process had to be done again, causing delays, among other things. Attention to detail meant a lot more than it does now- it could end a project, or worse still a job.

We carried all of that experience to the computer age, thankfully.

It was a wonderful trip down memory lane.  I might take one of their courses next time. 

Astro Girl in San Francisco

There were many children online for the live reading, which was followed by a discussion about the book Astro Girl. Many more will watch the recording of the event on the San Francisco Public Library YouTube page. All in all, it’s been a good few months for the book. It was also featured in the South African Festival of Children’s Literature and the insights section of Communication Arts Magazine.

If it were any other time, I would still be recovering from jet lag, but the pandemic meant harnessing the power of the internet.

Here’s a link to the recording on San Francisco Public Library’s YouTube channel:

Scoop Magazine

Early in 2020, Scoop Magazine asked if was interested in illustrating some stories in a comic strip style. I have secretly wanted to do something like this for quite some time so jumped at the chance. Furthermore, the strips were to be activist or historical, which is a space that I follow regularly. In fact, many of my books are inspired by some sort of activism.

A couple of stories has become one per issue. Almost every assignment is different from book illustration in the best possible way, of course.  Each story is slightly better than the last, I feel. I sketch them in pencil and finish digitally.

I am looking forward to finding a digital style. That medium requires a slightly different way of thinking to paint and canvas. I chose to use a tablet, which meant taking a chance and buying one. So it’s more expensive than working traditionally and more time-consuming learning how to make the digital tools do what you want.

The overall effect is that it feels like being a fresh new illustrator who is risking a lot to make this work. When there is a lot at stake it can be easier to focus and stay focused, which is a good thing. Still caught up in the excitement of each project I can see a bigger picture… a graphic novel one day, perhaps, or some other grand project involving telling a story frame by frame.

The work hasn’t gone unnoticed. One of the assignments was to tell the story of John Blanke, an African in King Henry’s court. It has led to a commission for the John Blanke Project. So on some level, the results are exactly as hoped. And it seems like Scoop readers are enjoying the stories too. Working with a team of people that have the same goal is always a pleasure ad they have been patiently supporting and fine-
tuning each story. Long may it continue

She’s a Winner!

Astro Girl

Astro Girl has just won an award- a science award. While I have been fairly consistent through the years I haven’t won many awards. That isn’t my aim, so perhaps that’s why it has turned out that way. It always seemed way too obscure to come up with an award-winning idea. Sometimes just seeing a book in a shop window feels like an award, or seeing a child’s face light up as they hear or read the story feels like a victory.

I had a strong feeling that Astro Girl’s story would resonate with families, gender politics, aspiration, and race in a very natural way.  We all have dreams. But exploring the WHY and the HOW behind those dreams was a revelation! The vision for the story opened up and I remember being very excited. All this thinking took time, of course, and I wonder if there will ever be that much time available again. There is a reason why a book should take as long as possible to complete…

There are many wonderful books for children and families out there. They inspire us to be better if we allow them to. So what not be inspired?

Astro Girl is a winner, just like its readers and the real people that inspired it.