Adapting Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book

Illustration of Mowgli the man-cub and Bagheera the panther
Category: Writing

When I was asked to adapt The Jungle Book into a children’s book I was ecstatic. However, that feeling was quickly replaced with panic as I walked out of the meeting and wondered how was I going to adapt a classic into a forty-page picture book.

The first thing to do was obvious: read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. I had never read the original text and was fascinated to see the differences between the much-loved Disney movie and the source material. My publisher, Frances Lincoln, allowed me to structure and write the story myself, so at first I was taking note of sections of the story that were not in any of the adaptations. There were many of these but one main part that is in my final book is Mowgli’s plan to drive Shere Khan away with cattle.

Condensing the story into very few pages was extremely challenging

Condensing the story into very few pages was extremely challenging. I noted down lots of new sections that I wanted to include in the story, but in the end it became an exercise in deciding what was and what wasn’t important to the core story. One part that I was particularly sad to cut was a section of the prologue. I had written a part of my own where Shere Khan the Tiger rolls in mud to hide his stripes so that when he goes to steal the crying baby Mowgli any animals that might see him would think it was a panther and accuse Bagheera. Even though this section sets up Shere Khan as being cunning, it took up valuable space in the book and had to go!

The Jungle Book cover
After making the decision about what sections would make it into the book I had to structure it so that the pace of the story flowed nicely throughout. I thought that this would be fairly easy because I had written down what would happen step by step, but it was amazing how much difference it makes when you start assigning sections to single- or double-page spreads. I ran out of pages very quickly because I was trying to make each section a double-page spread. I had to keep going back through and deciding which parts deserved a double-page spread and saving those large pieces of artwork for climactic moments or large establishing shots setting up the world. Again, it was a great exercise and I got to really focus on what was important and worth emphasising.

I wanted the environment in the book to feel very hot and tried to reflect that in the colour scheme

Once I had outlined what was going to happen in the story and assigned a page to each part I started to sketch the artwork of the book. This, again, was a big challenge because whenever people imagine the characters of The Jungle Book they usually think of the Disney characters, especially when it comes to the animals. My schedule was tight but I tried to spend any free time sketching the anatomy of animals that would feature in the book. I wanted the characters to have weight and volume. This was very helpful when it came to designing the final characters and made it much easier to draw them interacting with each other, especially in the section where Shere Khan and Bagheera are rolling around fighting.

I wanted the environment in the book to feel very hot and tried to reflect that in the colour scheme. I usually work with a very bright palette, so this felt quite natural for me. Using lighting and colour is a very important tool for me in storytelling, and I try to apply it in ways that help communicate the feeling of each scene. For example, when there are moments of doubt or Mowgli feels conflicted, the sun is setting or it is night.

The process of making a book is always a journey of discovery. Even when you have incredible source material to base the work on it is still a challenge to make it work together and do the original justice. I found the whole experience extremely rewarding and hope that the book appeals to children and their parents.


Catch Robert F. Hunter talking about his adaptation of The Jungle Book at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 20 August 2016, 15:15-16:15


Rob Hunter

Robert Hunter is a London-based illustrator who works with traditional drawing and printing techniques to produce his otherworldly picture narratives. Rob has worked on a wide range of personal and commercial projects and regularly collaborated with Blinkink's finest on a variety of animated and sculptural pieces.

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