Part 1 – The Early Years

Part 2 – The Stellenbosch Years (and Chicago, USA)

Part 3 – The Johannesburg Years

Part 4 – The Years in Greece

Part 5 – The First Gordon’s Bay Years

Part 6 – Over the Next Horizon

Part 7 – Willy Nilly and Thumper

Part 8 – Life After Willy Nilly Was First Launched

Part 1 – The Early Years

Marjorie van Heerden was born at De Doorns in the Hex River Valley near Cape Town in South Africa. She went to school and matriculated at the Rustenberg Girls High School in Cape Town.

For one year she followed a degree course in Fine Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, and then switched to the Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. For a further three years she studied Fine Arts, concentrating on sculpture and graphic art under the legendary Katrine Harries, known for her illustrations for children. After university Marjorie entered the advertising industry as a graphic design artist, while practicing portrait sculpting (including commissioned works), painting and other graphic techniques in her free time. At this stage she concentrated mainly on lithography and etching.

Part 2 – The Stellenbosch Years (and Chicago)

After her marriage to Johann van Heerden, then lecturer at the Department of Drama at Stellenbosch University, she started concentrating full-time on her creative art and set up an artist's studio behind their Victorian cottage in Stellenbosch in the Cape. For six months she filled in as head of the graphic section of the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Stellenbosch.

After travelling and studying in Europe for a year (1975‑76), the Van Heerdens had their first child, a daughter, Alexia born in 1977 and subsequently Marjorie started concentrating full-time on the illustration of children's books and on bringing up her children. Their second child, a son, Markus, was born in 1980.

Soetlemoen en Nartjie (Sweet Orange and Tangerine), written by Cecilia Saayman, was the first children’s book she illustrated (1983).

From 1984 to 1985 the family lived in Chicago, where Johann worked as a visiting professor at
Northwestern University for one year, after sailing to the USA by ship. There Marjorie made valuable contact with American children's book authors, illustrators and academics. She also attended various conferences and study groups on Children's Literature and Children's Book Illustration in the United States.

Shortly after her return to Stellenbosch she was invited to take part in a group exhibition of works by prominent Children's Book Illustrators at the South African Art Society in Cape Town.

Marjorie was the initiator and one of the main organizers of the international Towards Under­standing Children's Book Symposium that was held with 550 delegates at the
University of the Western Cape in July 1987. She started working towards the ideal of putting together this symposium (a first in South Africa), directly after her return from the USA. This was the first symposium on children’s literature that was held on the continent of Africa.

The Towards Understanding Symposium has led to an awakening to the importance of quality books for children in Southern Africa and as a result a number of smaller symposia have since been organized in different parts of the country.

Marjorie was also the initiator and one of the organizers of a Children's Book Festival held in Stellenbosch in July 1988. This too has sparked off similar book festivals around the country.

Part 3 – The Johannesburg Years

In January 1989 her husband, Johann, accepted a position as a film and television producer and the Van Heerdens moved to Johannesburg. In 1991 he joined M-Net, a Pay-TV service, as an executive.

In Johannesburg, Penguin (SA) approached Marjorie with the offer to head their children's books section. She agreed to do this for one year.

Marjorie was a committee member of the Johannesburg Children's Book Group until 1994, and was involved in organizing a children's book festival in Johannesburg in October 1989 - this subsequently became an annual event.

She also served on the steering committee forming a new Johannesburg Children's Book Forum to focus on the needs of the New South Africa after democratization in 1994.

At the end of 1989 she left Penguin in order to return to her creative work. Again she erected an artist's studio in her back yard and has been writing and illustrating for children since.

For more than forty years Marjorie has been building up her large specialist library and researching the field of children’s literature, particularly for beginner readers. She has been very active in promoting children's books by writing articles for specialist publications and giving talks, lectures and workshops to audiences ranging from small groups of parents to large gatherings of teachers, librarians, university lecturers and other specialists in the field. Her main focus was to help address and support developments in the new democratic South Africa with specific reference to promoting child and adult literacy amongst the historically disadvantaged communities.

Besides her own writing, Marjorie van Heerden has illustrated the books of several other children's book authors, has illustrated many school readers and has written and illustrated for various children's magazines. She has published a number of articles on children's books - all in South Africa. Her books have been published in many African countries and some have been translated into English, French, German and about twenty African languages.
Marjorie was co-author and the illustrator of Baba's Plan (1990), the first book to be published as result of a conference organised by
Sue Hepker,
then of The Read Organization, during which editors, writers, illustrators and community workers got together to "workshop" children's publications for the "New South Africa". Sue Hepker, then director of The Little Library, has organised more such conferences since - in 1992 Marjorie did the art direction for five of the ten children's books that resulted from these workshops and she was the art director of a further series of ten titles which were published in 1995. These books won the 1996 Asahi Reading Promotion Award presented by IBBY, the world-wide children’s book association.

From 1990 to 1996 she compiled (and often illustrated) four pages for children in the monthly Edgars Club Magazine, which had a circulation of over one million - the largest in South Africa.

In an attempt to support the reconstruction and development programme (
RDP) in the new South Africa, Marjorie has conceptualised and developed an original folding format for low-cost readers (eight illustrated pages). These fully illustrated books are designed for distribution amongst pre-schoolers and beginner readers in the very poorest communities. Twenty-one titles in this series have already been published by the Ntataise Trust. Marjorie wrote and illustrated all these readers.

In 1997 Nasou Publishers developed and published the whole series in a full-colour version, called the “Bright Books Series”, all conceptualised, written and illustrated by Marjorie van Heerden; the first set of 11 books, containing 36 original stories aimed at Grade One learners was published in 1997. From this developed a second set, four books for Grade Two learners, published in 1998 and a third for Grade Three learners, published in 1999, also written and illustrated by Marjorie. These sets of readers for early learners were scientifically developed to suit the specific cultural and educational needs of the youth of the new democratic South Africa and they cover the Foundation Phase of the new South African school system.

In July 1995 Marjorie received a scholarship to attend the Highlights Foundation Writers’ Workshop Symposium at Chautauqua in New York State, USA. After her return to Africa she started developing a completely new technique of illustration, which she first used in The Zebra and the Baboon, written by Thomas A. Nevin and published by Garamond Publishers in 1996.

n 1997 she was commissioned by Harper Collins (NY) to illustrate Baby Dance, written by Ann Taylor and published in the USA.


The original artwork for a number of her books has been shown at various international exhibitions in Europe and elsewhere, including the acclaimed travelling Exhibition Amabhukhu, organised by La Joie par les Livres and opening at the 1999 Bologna International Children’s Book Fair in Italy. Subsequently the exhibition was shown in Canada and in various European capitals. The illustrations for her book Monde’s Present were chosen for this exhibition, together with work from 34 other artists from Africa.

In 1998 Marjorie wrote and illustrated three books for Cambridge University Press for their Cambridge Reading Routes Reading Programme. Subsequently she was asked to art direct the contributions from the other eleven South African writers and illustrators.


Block 4 – The Years in Greece

In February 1999 her husband, Johann, accepted a position with a pay-TV company in Greece, and they moved to Athens. Their house in Dionysos had a large loft with a view over the Greek mountain ranges. This became Marjorie art studio.


She celebrated the new millennium with a commission from the Greek publishing house Patakis to illustrate her first three children’s books for young Greek readers. The first two appeared in September and December 2000 and the third, a Greek translation of Katherine Paterson’s The King’s Equal, appeared in December 2001.

In her new environment Marjorie once again became very active in organisations for children’s literature. She was the regional advisor of the Greek branch of the
SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), headquartered in Los Angeles, USA, and she was involved in organising an international book conference held on the Greek island of Hydra in June 2002.

They lived in Greece until 2003.


Block 5 – The First Gordon’s Bay Years


The Van Heerdens moved back to South Africa in February 2003 and since then Marjorie has illustrated many trade children’s books, some written by herself, and a number of educational works (see attached bibliographies). She also wrote and illustrated a volume of collected children’s stories, published in both English and Afrikaans. In 2005 one of her earlier picture books, Monde’s Present (first published in 1997) appeared in ten of South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Back in South Africa she once again became very active in the local organisations for children’s literature, and also established a South African chapter of the international SCBWI.

Marjorie is an
M-Net/Via Afrika Literary Award Winner: In June 2008 the M.E.R Prize for best illustrated children’s book of the year 2007 was awarded to Marjorie van Heerden (illustrator) and Wendy Hartmann (author) for Nina and Little Duck, published by Human & Rousseau (SA). It is also available in Afrikaans as Nina en Eendjie.

The Van Heerdens now live in the picturesque coastal village of Gordon’s Bay near Cape Town. Marjorie has set up her artist’s studio in the loft of their home near the beach and from her work station she looks out west over False Bay. In the evening she can see the sun set behind Table Mountain across the bay. She has come full circle back to her beloved
Cape of Good Hope, loves living so near the Cape of Storms and, while writing and illustrating one children’s book after another, she keeps wondering what is waiting over the next horizon…


Block 6 – Over the Next Horizon


What she then found over that horizon was the end of the first decade of the new century.  In 2011, apart from her work for the SCBWI and lecturing on children’s book illustration, Marjorie spent most of her time in her loft-studio illustrating two picture books for young readers and two youth chapter books:




Goblin Diaries: Apprenticed to the Red Witch, written by Alex D’Angelo was published by

Tafelberg Publishers. Sam – ‘n Ware Verhaal van ‘n Dogtertjie en haar Olifant (Sam – A True Story of a Little Girl and her Elephant), written by Flemish author Ingrid VanderVeken was published by Lapa Publishers – it was originally written in Dutch (see interview on Lapa website) and translated into Afrikaans by Antjie Krog.  The two picture books, Numbers Do and Ears Hear were co-written for the Chinese Market by Kathleen Ahrens and Chu-Ren Huang  and were published by Sun Ya Publications (Hong Kong).


A highlight for Marjorie in 2011 was the exhibition, in March, at the Uni­versity of Stellenbosch Art Gallery, of her original illustrations for Die Avonture van Alice in Wonderland (H&R, 2010). This is the Afrikaans version of Lewis Carroll’s classic, and the translation was done by one of South Africa’s most distinguished and world-renowned novelists, André P Brink.



In October of 2011 Marjorie and Elaine Ridge hosted a week-long Spring Event, attended by Steve Mooser, Sally Crock and Erzsi Deak, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the SCBWI.


During the year Marjorie was guest lecturer at various schools, colleges and libraries; she lectured at a writing school facilitated by the ATKV (Afrikaans Language and Culture Association) in Gauteng. For the third consecutive year, she facilitated a week-long children’s book illustration course as part of the Spring School at the Visual Arts Department of Stellenbosch University and she lectured at a refresher course for librarians offered by the University of Western Cape.


Marjorie wrote and illustrated a picture book she called Lulama’s Long Way Home (published by Pan Macmillan in 2007) and in 2011 the Zulu translation Uhambo LukaLulama olude Oluya ekhaya won the W.B. Mkhize Award, from the Usiba Writers’ Guild.


The next year, 2012, was again a very busy year for Marjorie.  She finished the illustrations for Numbers Do and Ears Hear, (the two picture books aimed at the Chinese market and published in Hong Kong).  Both books were released in May, in time to be launched at the AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content) conference in Singapore. She was invited to the conference as a guest speaker and she did two presentations: 1) “How Illustrations in Children's Books Provide Context for Understanding Stories” and 2) “Challenges in Developing Countries for Picture Book Authors and Illustrators”. While at the conference, Marjorie also facilitated a day of master classes for children’s book illustrators and writer/illustrators.

In the same year she contributed a chapter on children’s book illustration for an academic volume, Die Afrikaanse Skryfgids (The Afrikaans Writers’ Guide), compiled by Riana Scheepers and Leti Kleyn.  Marjorie’s chapter, Daai deurmekaar, ongepoetste tuin, is on page 143. In English the title of the chapter is roughly “That confused, unpolished garden”, with reference to Joseph Schwarcz's comment, “Do not let us treat children’s literature as a well-kept garden, thus robbing it of its nature as a windswept field.”)

Then she illustrated four stories for the two Storieman books, published by Human and Rousseau in the second half of the year.

Another highlight was in June, when Marjorie and author Alex D’Angelo won the M.E.R. Award for the best illustrated children’s book published in South African during the previous year (2011) – they won for Goblin Diaries: Apprenticed to the Red Witch. It was now the second time she has been awarded this prestigious award (the first time was in 2008, with Wendy Hartmann, for Nina and Little Duck).


In October Marjorie, as Co-RA for SCBWI (SA), hosted a retreat under the title The Fundamentals of Characterisation, at Fynbos Estate, an hour’s drive from Cape Town. The SCBWI (SA) invited Doug Cushman, an American writer/illustrator who lives and works in France, to facilitate the retreat together with Marjorie.

As usual, in 2012, Marjorie was a guest lecturer at various schools, colleges and libraries during the year; In April she again lectured at a writing school organised by the ATKV in Gauteng, and in September, for the fourth consecutive year, she facilitated a week-long children’s book illustration course as part of the Centre for Comic, Illustrative and Book Arts (CCIBA) at the Department of Visual Arts at Stellenbosch University. In December she lectured at a refresher course for librarians offered by the University of the Western Cape.



Before the end of 2012 Marjorie started with her next project, illustrating a children’s picture book commissioned by publisher Oyez!Books, an imprint of Integra MajuJaya Media in Malaysia. The book was called Grandma Lim’s Persimmons and it was written by Sunita Lad Bhamray.  Sunita famously said: “Close your eyes and let your world take on colours from the rainbow. Open them steadily and make it happen!”.  Grandma Lim’s Persimmons was released in May 2013, in time to be launched at the AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content) in Singapore.


Next Marjorie illustrated the chapter book, Blossoms of Scarlet, a fantasy story written by 17-year old Kiara Soobrayan and published by Maskew Miller Longman. The outside cover is in full colour and the inside illustrations are in mono­chrome.


In 2013 Marjorie was commissioned by NB Publishers to design and illustrate characters for their new interactive online bookshop, Storierak (“Story Shelf”), for the electronic downloading of Afrikaans language children’s books. Two stories that she had illustrated earlier, Goue­lokkies (Goldilocks) and Die drie varkies (The three Little Pigs) were included as separate digital books. These were two of four stories Marjorie had illustrated for the Storieman series published by Human and Rousseau in 2012.


In 2013, as in previous years, for the fifth consecutive year, Marjorie was invited to facilitate the 5-day Children’s Book Illustration Course at the University of Stellenbosch. In her own home loft-studio she also offered and facilitated two 2-day courses and workshops for children’s book illustrators: The Fundamentals of Drawing (July) and Visual Background in Children’s Book Illustrations (November).


In 2013 the City of Cape Town’s libraries department launched a reading campaign aimed at young readers in the Western Cape and they used some of Marjorie’s illustrations for their campaign, on the posters, the library cards, pamphlets, bookmarks etc. (Note: The children’s book library and reading area filling the basement of the Cape Town Central Library has wall-papered all its walls with blown-up copies of a selection of exclusively Marjorie’s published children’s book illustrations. This newly-renovated library, located next to the City Hall and the Grand Parade in downtown Cape Town, is definitely worth a visit for any booklover coming to the Fairest Cape.)


A great highlight of 2013: In October Marjorie, as Co-Regional Advisor for the SCBWI (SA) with Elaine Ridge, the other Co-RA, and the committee members, organised the SCBWI (SA) TURNS 10! celebrations. A conference, a celebration party and a series of review sessions for children's book writers and illustrators were held on 1, 2 and 4 November to celebrate the SA Chapter’s 10th anniversary. (Note: Marjorie started the South African Chapter of the international SCBWI in October 2003).

2014 was another very busy year. It started with a commission to be the illustrator for quite a large American children’s book project;
The Adventures of Willy Nilly & Thumper books by Jim Henry (Texas, USA). Marjorie, as the illustrator, was also on the team who built a website for the collection. She created all the visual material on the website.


At the same time Marjorie was also working on the StorieMuis (“Story Mouse”) series by Leon Rousseau for H&R Publishers in Cape Town, also published in 2015. Marjorie is one of three illustrators commissioned for the first two collections of stories and poems. These StorieMuis books, aimed at pre-readers, are part of the Storieman series, books of South African fiction and fairy tales for beginner and other young readers. Marjorie illustrated four stories in Storieman books 1 and 2.


In 2014, for the sixth consecutive year, Marjorie was invited to facilitate the 5-day Children’s Book Illustration Course at the University of Stellenbosch during their Spring break. During the year Marjorie was asked to give various talks and workshops on Children’s Book writing and illustration. In August, after repeated requests by local graphic artists, she again offered and facilitated two 2-day courses and workshops in her studio: The Fundamentals of Drawing and Visual Background in Children’s Book Illustrations. In her capacity as Co-RA for the South African chapter of the SCBWI, Marjorie, with Elaine Ridge, the other Co-RA and their committee members, organised a variety of workshops, talks, get-togethers and review sessions for local children's book writers and illustrators.


2015 was even a busier year than 2014. A large part of the year was spent on developing and sorting out how the The Adventures of Willy Nilly & Thumper books should look.


Some background notes: The Willy Nilly stories have been told in Jim Henry’s family for three generations. Like his grandfather and father before him, Jim continued the tradition by telling bedtime stories about Willy Nilly, first to his three children and later to his eleven grand­children. Then, together with New York editor Simone Kaplan, Jim decided to publish the stories, in English and in Spanish, in the USA.


As far as planning the format of the books was concerned, it started with picture books, and then the team decided to make a storybook with 4 to 6 stories. Eventually it was decided to go back to the picture book format. Marjorie started with the illustrations in November.


The plan was to launch the first two books, The Adventures of Willy Nilly & Thumper Book One: The Treasures of Mount Methuselah and The Adventures of Willy Nilly & Thumper Book Two: The Hermit’s Last Hairs, in May 2016. Book 3 and book 4 were planned to be published in the second half of 2016.


At the same time Marjorie was still working on the StorieMuis (“Story Mouse”) series and she completed the final illustrations for Books 1 & 2 (published in October 2015). Then she completed the illustrations for Books 3 & 4 (published in 2016). She worked together with two other illustrators, Karen Ahlschläger and Johann Strauss.













In 2015, for the seventh consecutive year, Marjorie was invited to facilitate the 5-day Children’s Book Illustration Course at the University of Stellenbosch during their Spring break.



At that time Marjorie also illustrated the book Stories van die See (Afrikaans), Sea Stories (English) by Wendy Maartens, published in 2016 by Protea Books, SA.  The book is a collection of stories, all related to the sea.






In 2015 Marjorie, Elaine and their SCBWI committee members organised a variety of workshops, talks, get-togethers and review sessions for local children's book writers and illustrators. This year they also organised a writers’ retreat and invited Alan Durant, well-known British children’s book writer, as the guest presenter.


Marjorie completed the illustrations for four books during 2015.


From the first week of 2016, the year of the Monkey, Marjorie was already at her desk working. She had worked through the Christmas holidays and completed the final illustrations of the first two books in the The Adventures of Willy Nilly & Thumper book series in the first quarter of 2016. In total, she completed the illustrations for seven books during this year.


Marjorie continued working on the StorieMuis (“Story Mouse”) series by Leon Rousseau (who sadly died during that year). Books 3, 4, 5 and 6 were published during 2016.






In 2016, for the eighth consecutive year, Marjorie was invited to facilitate the 5-day Children’s Book Illustration Course at the University of Stellenbosch during their Spring break.


Marjorie continued as Co-RA for the South African chapter of the SCBWI. But because of her work load she was not able to be as active as she usually was. Elaine Ridge (the other Co-RA) and their committee members picked up the slack. Marjorie did, however, presented a 2-day intensive workshop on how to draw children for the SCBWI (SA).


The highlight of Marjorie’s 2016, however, was in May, when she flew to Texas, by invitation from Jim Henry, for the official launch of the first two Willy Nilly and Thumper books.