AI (Artificial Intelligence) has been a hot topic recently, since it’s made significant strides in various industries, including children’s book publishing. A large amount of AI-generated books have flooded onto Amazon, both created with AI writing tools and AI book images.
With the advent of AI for books, there are concerns about the impact on the quality and consistency of children’s reading experiences. In this article, we will explore the role of AI in children’s books, emphasizing the importance of consistency, artistic expression, and the human touch in capturing children’s imagination and creating meaningful reading experiences.
While this is a rapidly changing landscape because of the fast development in the area, I wanted to share some factual information, as well as my views, on AI for books.
This article will cover:
- AI-generated drawings in children’s books
- AI-written books
- The role of artists in society
- Ethical considerations with AI
- AI-generated books and copyright
- Ethical uses of AI for authors
Hopefully, this will help authors who are trying to decide whether or not to use AI, or how to use it and not use it.
AI-generated drawings in children’s books
While the use of AI for books, especially book illustrations, may seem convenient and cost-effective (and I understand the cost of illustrations can be a major obstacle for some authors), it raises concerns about the impact on our children’s reading experiences.
I’ve seen many concerns about AI taking work away from human illustrators, but what is more worrying is the effect this could have on our children. One of the most significant drawbacks of AI-generated images is the lack of consistency, so they create lower-quality children’s books where each illustration looks different from the last, with varying characters, colours, and art styles.
Currently, AI can only create separate images, not a series of images. You can’t feed your full story into AI, have the AI understand the story, and create book illustrations that feature the same characters moving through a coherent story.
To demonstrate the lack of consistency, I created some AI generated drawings. I gave three prompts to an AI image generator and made the prompts specific as to style and content to try to create similar, consistent images. The AI created four images for each prompt I gave, and I chose one from each of these sets. I chose the ones with the most similar drawing styles. So the below images aren’t an exaggeration of the inconsistency (I could have chosen images that are much more dissimilar based on the output I got.)
Now, you may be thinking, “Sure, but can’t you keep trying until they all look the same?” From my own experiments, the books I’ve seen, and simple maths, the answer is no. The amount of variables in character appearance, illustration style, and backgrounds (if the character is in the same place twice) is enormous.
This inconsistency is confusing, especially for children, and causes a subpar experience in reading the story. When children open a book, they enter a world of imagination where illustrations play a vital role in bringing the story to life. However, due to the inconsistency of AI images, AI-generated books lack the consistency that children need to engage with the story, disrupting the flow of the story and making it challenging for children to connect with the characters and follow their journey.
I’ve seen authors “overcome” this by showing the character only from the back for half the book (to make it less obvious that it’s not the same character), or other “solutions” that lower the quality of the book because they’re making the illustrations to overcome the shortcomings of AI, rather than to create the best illustration for each scene. Even then, the discrepancies between the characters and styles from spread to spread are obvious.
Human illustrators can maintain a consistent visual style throughout a book. They carefully craft each illustration, ensuring that the characters, settings, and style remain cohesive. By doing so, they create a harmonious reading experience where each illustration seamlessly complements the story.
AI-generated images don’t tell the story
Following from AI’s inability to be consistent, when you read a full book with AI-generated images, it becomes very apparent that the AI did not know or understand the story. The book will have a bunch of disjointed drawings that don’t truly tell the story, because the AI didn’t know the story.
Human illustrators understand storytelling and have the intuition necessary to infuse their illustrations with the emotions and themes of a story. They convey subtle details and nuances that AI simply cannot replicate. Through their expertise, human illustrators breathe life into characters, settings, and scenes, transporting children into captivating worlds of imagination.
NY Times bestselling author Jill Santopolo, said, “A picture book is a marriage of words and pictures. The most successful illustrations are the ones that take a story to another level. They don’t just illustrate the words. They add something else to them.”
While AI book images may appear appealing, they lack that understanding of the story, and thus cannot capture the essence and bring the story to life in the same way a human illustrator can. AI lacks the empathy and creativity required to understand the emotions and themes within a story, and the images lack subtle nuances (and blatant components), and they don’t bring in any fun subplots or charming underlying themes or threads like human illustrators often do.
Our children deserve to be surrounded by beautifully illustrated books that capture the story they are reading and their imaginations.
As AI images lack human feeling, empathy, and nuances, AI writing also lacks human creativity and soul. While AI writing tools may be able to string together coherent sentences and paragraphs, they lack that spark that makes a story truly captivating. AI writing tends to be formulaic and predictable, lacking the ability to inject unique perspectives, emotions, and subtle nuances into the narrative.
When reading a book, particularly a children’s book, we rely on the author’s ability to tap into our emotions, ignite our imagination, and transport us to different worlds. Human authors possess the empathy and understanding necessary to create characters that resonate with readers, and convey the underlying themes and messages of a story. AI, on the other hand, operates based on algorithms and data, and is limited when it comes to evoking emotions with stories.
Human authors draw inspiration from their own lives, observations, and interactions with the world around them, infusing their stories with raw experiences and relatability. AI has no human experiences or emotions, so the stories tend to feel detached or lacking in substance. While it’s somewhat intangible and hard to describe, AI stories, to me, lack soul.
AI writing tools may offer convenience and speed, they cannot reproduce the intangible qualities that make stories truly impactful. The human touch remains an indispensable aspect of the writing process.
On top of this, I have found AI’s storytelling and writing craft sorely lacking in the AI-generated books I’ve read. This is most likely also due to the “author’s” inability to write a good story, thus they are not using AI to improve their story, but the shortcoming is also with AI itself.
In my research as a children’s book author coach, I asked AI to write a few picture book manuscripts. They were all poor quality and miles from anything I’d consider publishing.
AI is constantly improving, so this may improve, but I believe, as readers, and even more so for our children, we deserve stories that are filled with humanity, passion, and the unique perspectives that only human authors can provide.
The role of artists in society
Artists hold a crucial role in society, shaping ideas, and fueling our imaginations. More so than most people realise. By entrusting this role to machines, we risk losing the unique perspectives and artistic expressions that only humans can provide. Artists bring diversity, creativity, and cultural context to their work. Using AI in children’s books undermines the significance of human creativity and limits the potential for artistic growth.
Artists bring a unique perspective and diverse cultural context to their work. By relying solely on AI-generated content, we risk losing the human touch that makes children’s books so special and transformative.
Something many authors aren’t aware of is that AI can be biased if it is trained on biased data or if there are biases in the algorithms used to develop it, and it seems extremely likely that it would be trained on biased data, since it’s trained on many human-created sources. AI systems learn from the data they are fed, so if that data contains biases, the AI will often reproduce those biases in its outputs.
While humans are also biased, we can use our judgement and creativity to navigate and challenge biases. This is especially important for ensuring that our stories promote inclusivity, empathy, and understanding. AI is basically a collection of existing data, and thus will write books based on that, whereas humans can take existing data and reinvent and reimagine with true creativity.
AI also has the ability to generate new ideas and solutions by analyzing vast amounts of data and identifying patterns and connections, but AI is not capable of true creativity or imagination in the same way that humans are. It lacks the ability to think abstractly or come up with original concepts. AI relies on human input and guidance to innovate and create something new.
In the realm of children’s books, the creativity of human authors and illustrators is of utmost importance. Artists play a large role in influencing our future with their imaginations, and children’s books fall within the arts, so handing this job over to AIs is not wise.
Human authors’ and illustrators’ unique perspectives, creativity, and dedication to storytelling ensure that children are exposed to meaningful reading experiences. By valuing the role of human artists, we uphold the importance of artistic expression, nurture children’s imagination, and ensure that the future of children’s literature is filled with creativity, diversity, and the magic of the human touch.
Ethical considerations with AI
Apart from what I covered in the previous section, which also relates to the ethics of AI generated books, there are other ethics considerations with using AI for books.
Recently, there has been a concerning trend of “authors” using AI to write their books and generating their illustrations, and then publishing these books as their own. This sad trend sends a message that falsely claiming work that you haven’t created as your own is acceptable, despite it being unethical.
I have seen more than one “author” on Amazon with a fake photo and bio, with many AI-generated books published in quick succession. At least one of these authors has an abundance of reviews which are also very obviously fake reviews (bought reviews). This may seem like my opinion, but it is very apparent.
This week I saw a new author who proudly posted that she is publishing her first book with images created by AI. The cover says, “Written and illustrated by [name]”. A few people suggested she may want to remove the “illustrated by”. This apparently had not occurred to her. Sadly, I think we’ll be seeing more of this.
The bright side: I know most authors would not want to publish stories not written by them, with machine-generated illustrations. Why would you want your name on a story you didn’t write? Isn’t the joy of creating a book, well… creating it?
Or if some authors choose to use AI-generated images (which I still would advise against), I believe most of them would have a good enough moral compass to not put their name as the illustrator.
This poll by Kelley Donner on Facebook seems to concur that most children’s book authors aren’t jumping on the AI bandwagon, with 91% saying they won’t use AI illustrations for their books within the next 1-2 years.
AI-generated books and copyright
If you use AI to write a book, or for the illustrations, it cannot be copyrighted. The US Copyright Office only considers human-generated work for copyright applications. This holds true in all countries that I’ve researched.
There are recent developments, though. According to the US Copyright Office, content generated by artificial intelligence, such as AI writing tools and image-generating tools, can now be copyrighted as long as a significant portion of the work was done by a human.
Currently, they will evaluate AI contributions on a case-by-case basis to determine if the human is the true author of the content. If the AI writer simply generates new content based on a prompt, the application will be denied. However, if there is sufficient human authorship involved, such as creative rearrangement or editing of AI-generated content, the copyright application may be accepted.
In other words, you still need to write and have a human illustrator for your book, else it can’t be copyrighted. So if you use AI-written text or AI-generated images, someone else can take it and use it, or reproduce and sell your book.
Ethical uses of AI for authors
While this article may seem opposed to AI, there are ethical uses for AI. AI is a powerful tool and can be helpful for authors.
Here are some ways AI could help you as an author.
1. AI as a writing assistant
AI writing tools can assist authors with tasks such as proofreading and checking grammar, language suggestions, and improving overall writing quality. For instance, AI can be used to identify and correct errors, provide alternative phrasing or word choices, and offer insights on sentence structure and readability. I’ve used ProWritingAid for years for such functions.
For instance, you can put your text into an AI tool like ChatGPT and ask it to proofread, or what the reading level of the text is (to see if it’s okay for your intended age group).
A tool like ProWritingAid is best, since it’s already set up to check for writing style, reading level, grammar and more.
In short, AI can help refine your work and ensure it is polished and error-free. This allows authors to focus on their creativity and storytelling, while using AI to improve the technical aspects of their writing.
2. AI for nonfiction ideas
AI-powered research tools can help authors gather information more efficiently and save time on manual research.
It’s essential to realise, though, that AI’s output is not always factually correct. It can cite non-existent sources and give information that sounds plausible, but is untrue. Chat GPT even states, “ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.”
Thus, using AI for fact-checking or taking everything AI says as fact would be a big mistake. Good nonfiction writers get their info from at least three sources before taking it as fact, so I’d suggest using that model.
I’d say a better use of AI is to brainstorm, and then do your own research and fact-checking from there. For instance, you could ask, “Give me 10 ideas that I can put in a nonfiction children’s book about butterflies” and then take your favourite 3-4 and research them with other sources.
3. AI for fiction
Similarly to nonfiction, you could use AI for ideas, for instance, AI-generated content as a source of inspiration or to generate ideas for their writing. This can help spark creativity and provide fresh perspectives, but the author still fully writes the story.
For instance, you could use an AI tool to generate story prompts or writing exercises. You could also use AI to help you generate ideas for characters or elements of your world or plot. These AI-generated ideas should serve as inspiration and help you explore new directions for your stories. So you wouldn’t use AI to write your story, just to brainstorm.
In other words, AI-generated content should be used as a tool to enhance creativity, rather than replace it. Always bring your unique voice and storytelling abilities to your work.
4. AI for translation
AI translation tools can help authors reach a wider audience by translating their work into different languages.
I can’t overstate the importance of human involvement in creating meaningful and imaginative children’s books. Hopefully this article has made it clear why this is so essential.
AI written books and illustrations may be cheaper and easier to create, but they are not the right choice for our children’s books. Our children deserve meaningful, creative books that capture their imagination and bring the stories to life. Anything less than that is simply not good enough for our kids.
Did this article make you think differently about using AI for books?
I hope this article has been thought-provoking and made you feel inspired to create your own children’s book!
At Children’s Book Mastery, it’s our greatest passion to help children’s book authors write and publish amazing books. We know that you can do it, and without using AI!
Here’s a free list to get you started: 43 Ways To Improve Your Children’s Book Manuscript. Download this list and use it to improve your book!
I’d love to read your comments!
- What is your biggest takeaway from this article?
- What are your thoughts about using AI writing tools or AI generated drawings?