Children’s book illustrator finds success on multiple platforms

By Michael Kinney 

As a child growing up in Oklahoma, Madelyn Goodnight loved books. Whether her parents or aunts read them to her or she poured over them herself, children’s books were a big part of her life.  

From the Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy and Herman Parish or the Frog and Toad collection by Arnold Lobel, Goodnight said the memories of her youth are filled with children’s books.

“I’ve got so many great books from when I was a kid. That was a core memory. I also loved How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen,” Goodnight said. “That was a favorite. There are so many. A lot of those books when I was younger really impacted me on a subconscious level and an emotional level. I loved reading those books. I just liked the children’s books genre. I still read them even now. I still go to Barnes and Noble and I’ll pick through all of them.” 

Despite that, Goodnight could never have imagined the feeling she got almost two decades later when she walked into her neighborhood Barnes & Noble in Oklahoma City and saw ‘Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!’ for the first time.  

“It was crazy. It was so exciting. I loved it,” a giddy Goodnight said. “I think I called my mom and my sister and my two best friends and like freaked out in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble. It was so, so cool. It was just a dream come true. I definitely recorded it on my phone. For sure.” 

Despite being an avid reader and having aspirations at one time to become a professional writer, Goodnight’s career path strayed away from writing. She has become a prolific illustrator, graphic designer, and fine artist.  

But even now, Goodnight still has a passion for telling stories that focus on Native American children’s perspectives. But instead of writing them down, she uses her artistic side to bring those stories to life in the form of illustrations.  

Goodnight’s first book was “The Pear Tree” by Luli Gray. It was published in 2019 by Penny Candy Books in Oklahoma City. That led to “Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!” in 2021.  

She now has six children’s books that are in publication with five more on the way. That includes “Powwow Day,” which was recently selected for the Society of Illustrators 2022 original art show. 

Goodnight is also working on the Netflix children’s series Spirit Rangers. 

But no matter what the project is, Goodnight takes the same approach.  

“I think as an illustrator, whenever I hear about a new book or someone approaches me with a manuscript, I just think as long as the story speaks to me and has a really great message and I like heart in the middle of it I can almost always just see it playing out in my mind before I even start sketching,” Goodnight said. “I think that that’s one of those in your gut type feelings that whenever I do a book I can just kind of see in my mind before I ever put pencil to paper.” 

Goodnight earned a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in Illustration and has worked as an illustrator and graphic designer in Brooklyn (NY) before moving back to Oklahoma City with her twin sister during the pandemic.  However, those job descriptions feel limiting to her vast portfolio of skills.  

 “I think as I have gotten more into art, I just feel so curious about a bunch of different types of media,” Goodnight said. “Even in my career, I do a lot of different things. I do freelance illustration. I do logo design. I do children’s books. Now I’m doing fine art. So, I do quite a bit all at one time. But I think that just makes it fun and thing and I love jumping around. I’ve even kind of dabbled in ceramic and rug-making textiles.” 

Some of Goodnight’s latest work is now on display at the Chickasaw Visitor Center in Sulphur. It will run through Feb. 28, 2023. 

Goodnight said the exhibit is her first solo showing featuring fine arts since she graduated college in 2018. When she was approached about the project last year, officials told her to do whatever she felt.  

Goodnight decided to use the opportunity to do some self-exploration.  

“I’ve got five pieces in the show and they’re based on my child’s experience,” Goodnight said. “I took a lot of inspiration from my Chickasaw heritage. They mainly depict animals that have Chickasaw cultural meaning. They’re all native to Oklahoma. I also tried to do lots of flora in the paintings that are all native to specifically Oklahoma. So it was kind of an ode to my childhood and my cultural heritage and the type of style and aesthetics that I like to use now.” 

Whether it is her fine art, book illustrations, or any of her artistic endeavors, Goodnight wants people to simply feel good when they come across her work. Just like the books she read as a child, she wants to leave a lasting impression.  

“I think if people can kind of see my work and it reminds them of a happy memory or maybe their childhood. I think I pull a lot from my own childhood. I pull a lot from my own cultural background,” Goodnight said. “So, I think that at any point if people look at my work and feel a sense of nostalgia or it reminds them of a memory that they really hold close or dear, I think that would mean the world to me.” 

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Photos: Provided

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