Make Art an Adventure: James Mayhew’s Katie Series

A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.

― Salvador Dali

Katie 1

© James Mayhew

At the age of six, Katie already loves art. She has roamed around Constable Country and explored Rousseau’s jungle. Over 30 years on Katie is still six, and still inspiring other children her age that there is adventure to be had in the art that grownups too easily hang out of their reach.  To be honest, classic paintings are often out of reach for many grownups too. The names are familiar, like an old great aunt, but the prospect of a visit is hardly top of the list. Katie can help us all to “make art an adventure” as we emerge from our lockdown cocoons.

James Mayhew (1964- ) is the British author-illustrator of the Katie picture books for young children. Back in the 1980s whilst still at art school, Mayhew created the first in the series, Katie’s Picture Show, as part of his coursework and published it a few years later in 1989. He took inspiration from a memorable childhood trip to a London gallery with his grandmother. Since then, Katie has gone on to have many adventures in the ever-expanding series. A passionate advocate for the arts more widely, Mayhew brings ballet alive in the Ella Bella Ballerina picture books (2008), and paints live to music in classical concerts. 

It is the excitement and adventure of that first trip as a young boy that Mayhew expresses passionately in Katie’s Picture Show – the story of a curious little girl called Katie who visits the National Gallery with her grandmother one rainy day in London. 

In bookshops, you will find three types of children’s picture books that contain fine art – non-fiction, artists’ biographies and fictional accounts of children or animals interacting with art. Katie’s story is the latter. The children’s author Allan Alhberg describes such picture books as “an interweaving of word and pictures.” (Moss 21). Indeed, the combination of text and image complementing one another is at the heart of Katie’s Picture Show as Katie climbs in and out of paintings, bringing life to the story, museum, and paintings themselves. Over the years Mayhew has been keen to ensure that the story is still for today’s generation, and so he has continued to make changes and adjustments to Katie’s Picture Show, with four editions to date. Not only have the fonts been consistently updated, but the progression in the front covers alone (see below) shows Mayhew zooming in ever closer over time, until the frame is abandoned all together. Mayhew breaks down the barriers to adventure in art. 

Front Covers

Katie’s Picture Show is the ideal introduction to the world of art and museums – an educational, entertaining, and fantastical adventure for young children. In the next few blogposts I will explore how Katie is a role model for our children as she shows us how museums are a gateway to adventure in art.


Katie’s Picture Show read by James Mayhew

Recommended Previous Posts

Museums and Galleries with Little Ones

Artist of the Term: J.M.W.Turner

Artist of the Term: Van Gogh

Artist of the Term: Michelangelo

American Modernism with Children 

5 thoughts on “Make Art an Adventure: James Mayhew’s Katie Series

  1. Pingback: ‘Katie Picture’s Show’: The Ultimate Children’s Museum Guide | CLASSICALLY CURIOUS

  2. Pingback: ‘Katie’s Picture Show’: Museums are Gateways to Adventure | CLASSICALLY CURIOUS

  3. Pingback: Getting in the Picture | CLASSICALLY CURIOUS

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