Nikolaus Heidelbach, author and illustrator, was born in Lahnstein am Rhein in 1955. He studied German language and literature, art history and theatre studies in Cologne and Berlin. While still a student he made his literary début with an illustrated work for adults and in 1982 published his first book for children, »Das Elefantentreffen oder 5 dicke Angeber« (tr. The elephant reunion, or 5 fat show-offs). Since then, numerous illustrations for short stories, poems and fairytales, plus schoolbooks, works for adults and cover illustrations, including those for the well-known Artemis Fowl novels, have appeared alongside picture books with his own texts.
Heidelbach is one of the most acclaimed and quirky picture book artists in Germany. He is one of the few writers who focus on the mischievous behavior and enchanting cruelty of children. The author has portrayed gender-specific clichés in his ABC book »Was machen die Mädchen?« (1993; Eng. »Where the Girls Are«, 1994). The work, awarded the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 1995, was followed by the 1999 »Was machen die Jungs?« (tr. Where the boys are). Heidelbach tells the story of an initiation that concludes with an exaltation of the act of reading in »Ein Buch für Bruno« (1997; tr. A book for Bruno): from the everyday world of their living room Ulla and Bruno dive into a book adventure. After the artist had illustrated »Märchen der Brüder Grimm« (1995; tr. Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm), which was celebrated by the »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung« as »a life’s work«, he published his own outstanding interpretation of the Danish writer’s fairytales on the occasion of the Andersen jubilee in 2005. In 2006, Heidelbach published »Königin Gisela« (tr. Queen Gisela), another picture book he both illustrated and wrote. Here the author artfully intertwines the backstory of a young girl who goes out to sea with her father and each evening listens to the adventures of Queen Gisela and the following story-within-a-story: shipwrecked, Gisela finds herself stranded on an island. Eight meerkats pamper her in every possible way yet she quickly grows bored… In 2007 the picture book was awarded the German Youth Literature Prize. In 2015 the Rhinelander published an illustrated children’s book titled »Rosel von Melaten« (tr. Rosel from Melaten), in which he addresses in a sensitive way the theme of child abuse. Despite its fairy-tale-like qualities, it was discussed in the media whether the book was appropriate for children. Eva-Maria Magel of the »FAZ« called it a »poetic epitaph for all children who were tormented and killed by their parents.« Most recently Heidelbach published a book called »Arno und die Festgesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung« (2016; Eng. »Arno and the Birthday Party Inc.«, 2016), in which the titular character’s seventh birthday becomes the occasion for an ironic and mischievous game mixing illusion and reality.
Heidelbach has received, among other distinctions, Troisdorf’s Picture Book Prize (1981) and the special award of the German Youth Literature Prize (2000) in honor of his life’s work. He lives in Cologne with his family.