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Worth & Soul of Words
A newsletter by Ken Baker,
author for young readers
September 2023

How to build readers with art.

Legacy of Life painting by Howard Lyon

Legacy of Life image by Howard Lyon

400% reading
comprehension and
retention increase

Did you know?

Imagery has positve impacts on readers

Listen up parents, librarians, and teachers. Pairing visual elements with written or verbal information can improve comprehension and retention by up to 400%.1 And apparently, 79% of buyers do judge a book by its cover.2 But a few stats can't capture the impact that visual arts can have on book lovers, reluctant readers, and everyone in between. Paintings have their own intrinsic beauty, spirit, and narrative, which can be extremely unique and diverse based on the beholder.

In terms of story, visual arts give words another soul‐adding a dimension of perception, creativity, and inspiration. Illustrations paint half or more of a picture book's story. Graphic novels have grown in popularity for their positive ability to inspire and engage a new generation of readers. And yes, the engaging promises cover art foretells can be a compelling reason to choose a book.

That's the wonder of art itself. Its beauty or appeal stirs our imagination of what might have been, what is, and what could be. Words do the same thing, but from a very different approach. That's why the two work so amazingly well together.

  1. 3M Corporation 2001
  2. The Book Smugglers' Annual Cover Art Survey, 2017

Mary Kept All These Things painting by Howard Lyon

Mary Kept All These Things image by Howard Lyon


Shout out! - Howard Lyon: Art's impact

From Howard Lyon: For me, art is the pursuit of something beautiful. It is taking raw materials and time and putting them together to transform the mundane into something extraordinary. I am always in awe in a museum or a friend's studio when I see the end result of years of training and focus come together in one beautiful work of art.

I love the thought that after an artist finishes creating something there is more beauty in the world. It is almost as if they are able to counter entropy. They bring an order to the chaos of materials and reorganize them into something that represents a moment of what it means to be human.

I am also struck by how it seems like a painting is both a collection of time, but slows down time. You are able to look at a painting and in one moment take in the effort of hours or days in that single instant. You have that impression with you forever. But then that single moment, frozen in paint and goes with you for many years and takes on new meaning as you bring new experiences to it. It is as if each time you see it, you see it through different eyes because you have changed as a person from one moment to the next. Paintings that didn't resonate with me at first might later in life as I have felt more, experienced more.

Howard Lyon is one of my favorite artists of all time. You may know him for the spectacular art he has created for Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, David Farland, Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast, Magic the Gathering, and other fantasy works. But my favorites are his religious works. Their beauty literally warms your soul. Check out his work for yourself at www.howardlyon.com.

Book business and life - Illustrations' affect on book publishing

Years ago, a major publisher debated turning one of my chapter books into a series. Two of the three main decision makers wanted to move forward. The holdout wanted illustrations to help them decide. Since I wasn't an illustrator, I couldn't provide that visualization. So, they passed on my book. I really could have used some good art skills back then.

Heart with Wyrm Dragon by Ken Baker

Wyrm and Heart images by Ken Baker

What I love - Creating art

I don't consider myself an artist yet, but I love creating art. About five years ago I started working on developing my skills. For my first major project I created digital art for a dragon‐based card game idea I had. My first attempts weren't great, but now I like the end results (see Wyrm to the left). I eventually want to take formal art classes and become talented enough to illustrate my own books. That, I would really love!


Special thanks to the talented illustrators of my books; Geoffrey Hayes, Christopher Santoro, Steve Gray, and Dave Coverly‐ and of course, to Howard Lyon for his wonderful contributions to this month's newsletter.

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Cow Can't Sleep
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Picture book collection

Copyright 2001-2023 by Ken Baker

How to Care for your T-Rex pictures by Dave Coverly
Old MacDonald had a Dragon pictures by Christopher Santoro
Brave Little Monster pictures by Geoffrey Hayes
Cow Can't Sleep pictures by Steve Gray