Words: Laurence Chartrand
Photography: Adrian Knowler
With her children’s books translated into dozens of languages, her posters displayed in
more and more classrooms, and many new projects planned for the next couple of
years, Elise Gravel is undoubtedly becoming one of Quebec’s most in demand (and busiest!)
authors and illustrators.
Having grown up in eastern Montreal, Gravel has been known for her drawing talent ever
since she was little. “When I was really young I drew princesses, just like my friends did,”
she says. “Later, I started to read a lot of comic books, and recopied images I would see in
While Gravel is now a successful children’s book author and illustrator, she had no idea she
would be pursuing an illustration career after her studies in graphic design in Cegep. “It all
started while practicing my visual style, just for fun,” she says. In order to develop her own
style, Gravel gave herself multiple “ridiculous” hypothetical illustration contracts after her
“When I had done about twenty of them, I looked at my drawings and thought: ‘that would
make a great children’s book,’” she says. “I sent it to an editor, it became a book, and that’s
how I became an illustrator.” Her first book, Le Catalogue des Gaspilleurs, paved the way for
many other educative works by Gravel.
“I noticed this book had an educational potential, since it addressed overconsumption and
publicity,” she explains. After Le Catalogue des Gaspilleurs got published, Gravel started
doing school visits and conducting children’s workshops with that book. From that moment,
Gravel realized almost any book could educate children in one way or another.
However, Gravel says the educational aspect of her books is always secondary to fun. “The
ultimate goal of my books is that children enjoy reading.”
While Gravel’s books are made first and foremost for children to have fun while reading,
her posters, which are available on her website for free, are made especially to
communicate messages she cares about. Gravel produces posters about many subjects, such
as gender stereotypes, global warming, and the hosting of refugees.
“It’s something I do and consider as volunteer work,” she says. “I do this to help parents and
teachers who also want to send messages and don’t have accessible resources to do so.” As
people can simply go on Gravel’s website and print her posters on a piece of paper, they are
a tool that’s easy to find and use.
As a mother of two, Gravel wants her children to understand the concepts she considers
important. “I don’t have only one concern about our society, I have many of them,” she says.
“Every time something in the news catches my attention, I see it as an occasion to simplify a
concept and explain it to children.”
“I personally don’t have trouble explaining those concepts to my children, but I know it can
be complicated for many parents and teachers,” she says.
As an illustrator of educational posters, Gravel has a certain level of responsibility. This applies
particularly in specific cases, such as with her poster that addresses autism. “My
responsibility as a non-expert is to get informed on the subject and to validate the
information with the right people,” she explains. “In that particular case, I also asked my
followers to help me with that poster.”
“People really did help me and the poster evolved,” she says. “Now, I’m fully satisfied with
the poster, because people told me it corresponds to what they experience.”
Gravel considers being so close to her readers through social media as an advantage for her
as an author and illustrator. That contact with her followers has even led to posters that
were, at the very beginning, suggested by readers. “It was parents who asked me to simplify
the concept of autism after they had seen other posters,” she says.
However, this direct contact with her audience on social media also comes with drawbacks.
With over 60,000 followers on her French Facebook page, Gravel is used to receiving
comments of all kinds about her work. “Sometimes, I tend to care about comments a bit too
much,” she says. “In some cases I should just take a step back and let the posters be, with
By contrast, in cases where she is a non-expert, Gravel feels she needs that interaction with
her social media community. “I want my work to be useful,” she explains. “Thus, if I want
my work to be used and relevant, I need to consult people.”
“I need to strike a balance between what I do for me, what I do to help, which comments I
should take into consideration and those I should reject,” she says.
Striking a balance within all of her future projects will certainly be another challenge for
Gravel. Her latest book, Le Pire Livre du Monde, was released on March 29. “It’s a very funny
book where everything is boring, from the story to the illustrations,” says Gravel, laughing.
The English version, The Worst Book Ever, is scheduled for release on May 28.
For the upcoming year, the author and illustrator has ten book projects – written in both
English and French – on the table. Among those, the third book of the Olga series, and a
book on refugees, inspired by her poster on the subject.
“I have tens of projects planned for the next couple of years,” says Gravel. “It never stops,
there’s always too many of them…That’s kind of my problem.”