I want to hone my kids' aesthetics through choice picture books
September 29, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Visual artists: what kids’ picture books do you love? I’m especially interested in books appropriate for 4 and 5 year olds, but if you have recommendations for books for older kids that’s great too.
posted by Dragonness to Education (35 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Cooper Eden is a favorite!

posted by Cerulean at 7:51 AM on September 29, 2011

I am not a visual artist, but I do love picture books. Here are some:

But who will bell the cats
The lion and the mouse
Not a box
The Red shoes
If Kisses Were Colors
Kitten's First Full Moon

The three Questions

Charley Harper also has a lot of children's books, although they're sort of geared younger, if that's your estethic.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2011

anything by Oliver Jeffers or Carin Berger
posted by mattbucher at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2011

You probably already know about the Caldecott Medal, but if not, you should definitely check out the books on that list. If you want the most recent books, you can google for "Caldecott buzz" and find out which books are being talked about this year.
posted by cider at 8:09 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also not a visual artist (professionally) but the lino block prints in this dinosaur book are amazing:

Wings, Horns, and Claws by Christopher Wormell

And who doesn't love dinosaurs??
posted by pantarei70 at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2011

(Do you mean that only visual artists should answer?)

I love Mo Willems, especially his pigeon books. They're very simple, but the expressions he gives the pigeon are just spot-on hilarious. It's a great exercise in minimalism that tells way more of a story than words.

My artist friend with the five-year-old says, "For art and creative appreciation, these are the first that come to mind: Harold and the Purple Crayon and Not a Box."
posted by Madamina at 8:12 AM on September 29, 2011

Harlin Quist books -- long out of print, but eBayable at prices not too extortionate.
posted by kmennie at 8:14 AM on September 29, 2011

Response by poster: Do you mean that only visual artists should answer?

That was my intention, yes, but really anyone with a strong interest in the visual arts is qualified!
posted by Dragonness at 8:16 AM on September 29, 2011

'Blueberry Girl' by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess.
posted by gnutron at 8:20 AM on September 29, 2011

Visual artist's kid here. Animalia and The Remarkable Farkle McBride are two of my dad's favorites that spring to mind. Anything illustrated by Eric Carle or Maurice Sendak (Higglety Pigglety Pop! is my personal favorite) is visually pretty wonderful. And of course, you can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss.
posted by Dojie at 8:27 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Mo Willems above. Here are my favorites:

Blueberries for Sal
The Hermit Crab
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
The Stinky Cheese Man (older kids will like this better)
Yertle the Turtle
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:32 AM on September 29, 2011

I've always had a soft spot for The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox, by Astrid Lindgren (the creator of Pippi Longstocking, but these books are in a very different style from Pippi).
posted by bricoleur at 8:35 AM on September 29, 2011

I loved Miss Rumphius as a kid and still pull it out from time to time to look through it.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears is also fantastic.

The illustrations and the message of both of these books are great. I'm not a visual artist but I consider myself a very visual, artistic (!) person and I think the fact that my parents always had these kind of books around (along with lots of large, coffee-table-type picture books) was really a factor in my creative development.
posted by lovableiago at 8:47 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You must stock up on Shaun Tan. The Arrival comes to mind first, but anything of his will do.

I would also recommend books featuring James Gurney's work.

I'd also make sure to leave some books of your favourite artists around. If you want to make sure your children definitely look at them, tell your kids they're "off limits."
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:57 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a visual artist. You already have a lot of great suggestions here. To them I would add anything illustrated by Garth Williams, Tasha Tudor (even though she can be sappy, she has amazing style), and anything by Jannell Cannon. Animalia is fantastic. I like the Waldo books, but I understand that they're too busy for some people.

I became an artist because of books I looked at as a child. My favorites were Pogo comics, Peanuts (!), and most especially coffee table art books intended for adults. I didn't discover Ed Emberly until I was grown, but my kids are wild about him. I like his drawing books a lot.

You know the Everyone Poops guy, Taro Gomi? I think that's his name. He has a delightful doodling book that kids can draw in. Adults can draw in it too. I do.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 9:15 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mean, just look at his work. Just look at it.

Also: Martin Handford's Where's Waldo (or Where's Wally, depending on where you are). A desire for and enjoyment of investigating and analyzing visual information will instill itself in your kids' brains for life.
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:18 AM on September 29, 2011

Not an artist, but out of the thousand books I had as a kid, the one that most blew me away with gorgeous illustrations was Ul de Rico's The Rainbow Goblins.
posted by unsub at 9:21 AM on September 29, 2011

Not a professional artist, but some books that are really neat visually are The black book of colors & The Pencil.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:28 AM on September 29, 2011

I am an illustrator and a children's book specialist.

The thing is that beautiful or sophisticated artwork doesn't necessarily make a good picture book. Picture books are their own particular art form, a form that depends on the interplay of text, art, and the physical book itself. When I assess the overall aesthetic merit of a picture book, I consider all the factors together and most especially this interplay.

Which is just to say that I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for. Mo Willems, for example, is a master of the form, but his illustrations are not exactly high art--not a fault as far as I'm concerned, but maybe you want something more visually sophisticated. On the flip side, Oliver Jeffers makes gorgeous artwork but I find his stories pat and unoriginal--and would therefore not recommend his books.

Anyway. I like Maira Kalman, Chris Raschka, Vladimir Radunsky, Leo Leonni, Bruno Munari, Henrik Drescher, Uri Shulevitz, for books that are beautiful but also good picture books. Also check out Blexbolex, who doesn't exactly make traditional picture books but is awesome anyway.

The NY Times yearly list of best illustrated books can be a good resource, but I don't think the selections are always good picture books in the more holistic sense that I've described.

Also check out the posts tagged "children's" on the excellent blog Book By Its Cover.

You might also try exploring foreign picture books, which we in the US import, oh, every once in a while. You will obtain a broader aesthetic range this way. (A couple of the aforementioned illustrators are Europeans, but well-established here at this point.) For example, The Tree House, by Marije Tolman (Netherlands), is wonderful. Or try Duck, Death, and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch (Germany). Or Prince Silencio, by Anne Herbauts (Belgium, but I think the original publisher is French?). Or check out the offerings from Tara Books (India). My awareness of some of these comes from the Bologna Ragazzi awards, which are given at the biggest international children's book fair.

Have fun, and don't forget to consult your local children's librarians and booksellers. You'll make their day.
posted by the_blizz at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Calef Brown!
posted by see_change at 9:41 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the recs so far, please keep them coming. I am indeed looking for books where the illustrations and story are both exceptional. And yes, I am very interested in foreign books too.

Here are some of my favourites, if that helps anyone else:

Little One
The Happy Lion
Bugs in a Blanket
Father Christmas

Anything by Miroslav Sasek
Anything by Marc Boutavant

A nice overview of current children's illustration: Play Pen by Martin Salisbury
posted by Dragonness at 9:49 AM on September 29, 2011

Seconding Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears"

- Mercer Mayer's East of the Sun, West of the Moon (buy used)
- Marianna Mayer's Marcel the Pastry Chef
- Steven Kellogg's American tall tales like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Johnny Appleseed
- Maybe when they're a bit older, Eric Kimmel's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (even if you're not Jewish, it's a great story)
- My dad read my brother and me the Michael Hague-illustrated The Hobbit, which has 48 full-page painted illustrations. Good memories :)
posted by desertface at 9:51 AM on September 29, 2011

Response by poster: I forgot to mention another big fave:

Follow the Line through the House

I actually discovered several lovely children's books browsing at Anthropologie over the years.
posted by Dragonness at 10:12 AM on September 29, 2011

Oh-- I totally forgot Lauren Child. She does wonderful things with textures and brother/sister dynamics. Disney Junior used to air the show based on "Charlie and Lola," though I'm not sure if they do anymore.
posted by desertface at 10:19 AM on September 29, 2011

I am an artist and very interest in children's book illustration. However, I'm not at all familiar with children so I have no idea what is appropriate for what age! So my recommendations are going to be all over the place.

Dear Milli, an under-recognized Maurice Sendak book. His Nutshell Library might be suitable for younger kids, and Outside Over There is amazingly illustrated and delightfully creepy.
The Mouse Bride has a lovely story and the sort of overly elaborate, incredibly detailed illustrations that I loved as a kid. Didn't realize it was so hard to find in English, apparently!
The Garden in the City has beautiful drawing and fun diagrams along with a cool story. When I was a kid, I dreamed constantly of having a pulley system between two windows...
Anything by / illustrated by Leo Lionni (sooooo good, beautiful message, delightful images, amazing imagination) but my favorite is Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. My dad started bringing purple pebbles home from business drips so my sibling and I could make wishes on them, if we ever into the lizard in this story.
This Snow White illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert is astounding.
Anything illustrated by Demi, I like the Firebird.
Suzy Lee is a great contemporary illustrator, she does lots of wordless books (a lot of which you can preview extensively on her site). They are really expressive and beautiful. My favorite is The Wave.
Jerry Pinkney == AMAZING. Also, it seems like every book he's been associated has been wonderfully-written and is otherwise great. My favorite is The Talking Eggs.
The Weaving of a Dream, a good moral, and more lavish, amazingly detailed illustrations.
This Anansi is fantastic and classic.
Ed Young is another astounding illustrator who is always matched up with excellent stories. He is also incredibly versatile in his style, matching it to the content and style of the story, so there is a lot to explore with him. I love the Emperor and the Kite, Lon Po Po, and Yeh Shen.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold is a beautiful story paired with beautiful, fresh illustrations (from a handmade quilt!).
Trina Schart Hyman is a master of what most of us think of as traditional children's illustration, lavish, detailed watercolors in a gothic, pseudo-victorian pseudo-medieval fairytale world. I like her Rapunzel and Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.
Lisbeth Zwerger is wonderful too, everything she does is gorgeous, I like Little Red-Cap.

I second Mo Willems, Miss Rumphius, and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, as well as checking out Caldecott winners (though I once made the mistake of ordering Caldecott winners willy-nilly online, and some of them are not to my taste, so be sure to see the illustrations in person first! maybe that's a no-brainer). I love, love, love Shaun Tan, and like I say don't know much about children... but I don't think he's actually for kids. He's often shelved with children's books because he uses minimal text, but I consider him more of a low-word-count graphic novelist.
posted by fireflies at 10:32 AM on September 29, 2011

Can't go wrong with Wanda Gag and Virginia Lee Burton.

I certainly like Gennady Spirin and Nicola Bayley; I guess kids do, too.

As they get older, be sure to have plenty of N C Wyeth, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, and Gustaf Tenggren around; they'll thank you later.
posted by dpcoffin at 10:33 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adrienne Segur, too!
posted by dpcoffin at 10:40 AM on September 29, 2011

Thirding Shaun Tan. The man is a genius. Genius.
posted by madred at 11:34 AM on September 29, 2011

Seriously? No Greame Base? What's wrong with you people?

Arrow to the Sun is one I still have on my shelf.
posted by cmoj at 12:49 PM on September 29, 2011

Jamberry is beautiful and was a favorite of my daughter when she was small. She would usually stop me from turning the pages so that she could look at the pictures longer. (The colors are much more intense than they appear in these previews.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2011

Nthing Sendak, Lionni and Carle, and also every- and anything by Bruno Munari, plus lots of Tomi Ungerer, plenty of Edward Gorey, Winsor McCay's Nemo in Slumberland, Raymond Briggs galore, Lizbeth Zwerger.

Some lesser known but amazing authors: F.K. Waechter, Lorenzo Mattotti, Emanuelle Houdart.

Last but not least: the pop-up masters, like Robert Sabuda, Marion Bataille and David A. Carter.

(And don't forget about the visual quality of films, such as those by Michel Ocelot and Hayao Miyazaki, or Edelman's Yellow Submarine...)
posted by progosk at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by WeekendJen at 1:59 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also: David Macaulay's architecture and engineering books, for their peculiar storytelling draughtsmanship.
posted by progosk at 12:37 AM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: Great suggestions, thanks so much, everyone. I'm looking forward to discovering all these new illustrators and authors.
posted by Dragonness at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2011

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