Drawing History

Kansas City illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley inspires with children's books.

    Children’s books make Elizabeth Baddeley tick. When she was a child, her mother often bought her illustration annuals and children’s books. Little did Baddeley know, both would play a major part in her life.

   “I was always surrounded by beautiful children’s books when I was a child, and [I] never really outgrew them,” Baddeley says. “I like to be inspired by the world around me because there are interesting stories everywhere, especially in the things we tend to think of as mundane.”

   The Kansas City native attended KU and earned her degree in illustration and graphic design. She later earned her MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It was there that she began drawing on location, a tradition she continued after moving back to Kansas City.

   Baddeley often draws inspiration from her surroundings and experiences. Swimmer Girls, her book that won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators, dives into the intense and unifying world of competitive swimming, one she experienced on Blue Valley North’s swim team under the leadership of the late and revered coach Greg House.

Elizabeth Baddeley

   Her coloring book, Color Me Kansas City, was created because, in her opinion, The First Kansas City Coloring Book, published by Anne Wells and John Wornall in 1976, didn’t do the city justice. Baddeley’s book is like a 70-page love letter to the city’s unforgettable charm and diehard spirit, expressed through her sketches of beloved landmarks like Union Station, the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, the Bartle Hall pylons and Loose Park’s rose garden.

   You may have seen her other works in Highlights, The Improper Bostonian, The New York Times and Hallmark cards, to name a few. And when she isn’t illustrating, Baddeley teaches illustration at the Kansas City Art Institute.

   Currently, Baddeley is making a name for herself by illustrating children’s books and young adult novels. Though the series of nonfiction projects weren’t planned, it’s fitting that Baddeley illustrates books for young people when it was the illustrators of her favorite childhood books — Ray Cruz (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), Ron Barrett (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and famed Disney artist Mary Blair — who inspired her.

   Among her growing portfolio of books are the Wells and Wong mystery series by Robin Stevens; Women Who Broke the Rules: Mary Todd Lincoln by Kathleen Krull; A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper; and I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, which has reached No. 9 on The New York Times Best Sellers list and even garnered praise from Ginsburg herself.

Color Me Kansas City Elizabeth Baddeley

Color Me Kansas City coloring book


   “I don’t know how else kids are going to learn about them,” Baddeley says of the importance of books like these. “By the time you start learning about that stuff in school, you’re older and it’s not fun anymore and you’re reading a textbook and it’s dry.”

   For the next chapter in book illustration, Baddeley continues her trend of American history-themed tales. Slated for this summer is The Good Fight: The Feuds of the Founding Fathers (and How They Shaped the Nation), which chronicles the way founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams settled their differences. On the drawing board is An Inconvenient Alphabet, the story of Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s friendship and their mission to change the English alphabet. And after that, the award-winning illustrator will bring to life the story of Revolutionary War spy Anna Strong.

   “I love doing book covers because I get to design them and do the lettering and plan them all out,” she says. “They’re fun because you get to read the book ahead of time.”

   Needless to say, Baddeley is booked.

The Good Fight: The Feuds of the Founding Fathers and How They Shaped the Nation 

   For more information, visit ebaddeley.com.