The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Children’s book illustrator Jennifer Reinhardt teaches kids how to tap into creativity

Illustrator Jennifer Reinhardt teaches drawing classes at Sidekick Coffee to help youths create original characters for future works.
Isabella Tisdale
Children work on shading their art pieces during an art class with Jennifer Black Reinhardt at Sidekick Coffee and Books on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Sidekick will host their fourth and final installment of the class on Feb. 12, 2024.

Jennifer Reinhardt knew from a young age she would grow up to pursue a career in the arts.

Now as a professional illustrator, she recalls marveling when she was a child at the “Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak’s ability to create complex characters seemingly out of thin air.

“It was an amazing book back at the time,” Reinhardt said. “Even though it was a little scary, I liked it. His use of the linework has always stuck with me.”

Reinhardt, who lives in Iowa City, said opening up the imagination of children is the key to preserving the unique arts culture the city is known for.

“A lot of it was because of the arts. I’m amazed and grateful,” she said.

Reinhardt has taken her illustration skills to the classroom as the instructor of four children’s art classes at Sidekick Coffee over the last two months. The last class is Feb. 12.

For each class, every attendee gets a pencil and three ink pens, and after the sessions they can keep their materials and get their characters printed along with their book titles and names.

“I’d love for them to come away thinking about what they read a little more in that light and maybe wanting to combine reading, writing, and drawing together,” she said.

Before designing the class at Sidekick, Reinhardt said she wasn’t sure where to start, so she opted for character design because it was something she knew well. Another recurring teaching topic of hers is touching on the power of a single drawn line.

“It can be a profile, it can be an animal, a whole person, and [it can] tell you a story,” she said.

Reinhardt grew up in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, a “picturesque town” in the Appalachian Mountains, where she found herself surrounded by a welcoming community that influenced her childhood.

“The friendly, safe, and caring community influenced me and was a big part of my happy childhood,” she said.

Two people in Reinhardt’s life helped her in her creative journey: her mother and her grandmother, who were also both artists. Her grandmother kept unique and quirky collections of various items, one of which included antique picture books. Reinhardt described her as “eclectic.”

Reinhardt said her mother was so invested in the arts that she sought out teachers specifically for her daughter when the illustrator was younger, she said.

“She made the effort to drive me back and forth every Thursday night to art lessons that were about a half hour from home,” she said.

The first picture book Reinhardt ever wrote, “The Giant’s Toybox,” was published in 1995 by Wyrick and Company. At the same time, she illustrated humorous calendars and greeting cards for a large company. Her collaborative illustration journey began with Charles Bridge Publishing.

The East Coast illustrator takes pride in doing whimsical artwork for prominent children’s books like “Gondra’s Treasure,” “Always by My Side,” and “Playing Possum.”

“I’ve always wanted to do this, but it’s taken a long time to happen. It was pretty incredible,” she said.

Reinhardt also published some children’s tales of her own, such as “Blue Ethel” and “Always by My Side.” Her ideas stem from the want to make readers relate to her characters, which she said generates a lot of her storytelling.

“It feels like a powerful thing to create a character and convince you, the reader, to believe that they exist, have meaning and validation, and hopefully find a connection to a child,” Reinhardt said.

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About the Contributors
Isabelle Lubguban, Arts Reporter
Isabelle Lubguban is a third-year student at the University of Iowa. She is majoring in English with a concentration of Creative Writing. This is her first year at the Daily Iowan as an Arts Reporter, and she enjoys doing photo and video editing in her free time.
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.