Sisters work together to create illustrated children’s history books

The Greenberg sisters

The Greenberg sisters - Credit: Archant

Imogen and Isabel Greenberg grew up in Muswell Hill attending Tetherdown Primary School and Fortismere.

One of the sisters' books

One of the sisters' books - Credit: Archant

Now living in East Finchley, Imogen, who studed Ancient and Modern history at Oxford has collaborated with her illustrator sister on two children’s books about the Egyptians and the Romans. Bridget Galton asked how they work together.

Isabel, As illustrator do the images come first and the text later?

As this was fact based, the text came first and I responded to it. I wanted each book to have a different visual feel that reflected the aesthetic of the subject. Once I had the bare bones of the text, I was free to interpret it visually and many of the jokes and casual asides were collaboratively added. For the Egyptians I tried to take a colour palette from Egyptian wall paintings and most of the characters are drawn in profile. We ran many of the panels horizontally again mimicking papyrus paintings. The Romans was more free form. We drew inspiration from mosaics and tried to use the rich reds and golds we feel are associated with the Roman empire.

Do you enjoy illustrating history?

I’ve always really enjoyed history and Ancient History in particular and have been very inspired by the rich wealth of visual material that it provides. Plus I don’t like drawing cars!

What was the idea behind the books’ handy fold-out map and timeline.

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The bigger format was really exciting, plus I’ve always loved maps. It’s crucial to give the reader something to turn back to and a place and time in which to set the events, particularly as both empires spanned an astonishingly long period and we are just scratching the surface.

Imogen: Your books make history enjoyable.

We knew from the start what age group the books were aimed at and that they were in line with the curriculum. We wanted to pick stories and themes that were fun.

How much research did you do?

Quite a bit and then I condensed that down to make it accessible. I tried to put in some of my favourite stories and characters which I thought would appeal to young children but we also wanted to give a really good overview and introduction to broad themes from the whole period. When we felt something was working particularly well, we gave it more space.

The language is also pitched at an accessible level.

We both remembered reading about Ancient History as children and loving it, so we weren’t worried that kids wouldn’t engage with the content. The stories are so great we knew we didn’t have to compromise too much. But we did want a few levels of content - dialogue, storytelling and facts so that children could engage with what appeals most.

When you were growing up did you ever create books together?

We actually used to argue all the time as children. But when we were on holiday as children, we would invent epic stories about the places we were visiting with our mother. There were always plucky orphans in them. Independently we also both really liked stories.

How do you work together?

We work collaboratively, both playing to our strengths. Its not as simple as one of us writing and the other illustrating, we tried to share ideas.

Was there any indication from a young age you would go into writing/illlustrating?

We both always liked writing, drawing and reading. We were taken to a lot of museums and still love them and go even though we aren’t bribed with gift shop merchandise anymore (though we still love a National Trust ruler).

Imogen and Isabel Greenberg and their book: The Roman Empire, Frances Lincoln, £8.99