Kids books with intricate illustrations
August 21, 2018 8:19 AM   Subscribe

My 4-year-old daughter and I enjoy reading books with intricate illustrations/photos (examples inside). Can you recommend some more for us to pore over?

Some examples include:

Where’s Waldo (of course)
Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds by Marianne Dubuc
The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman
Anything by Richard Scarry
City Mouse, Country Mouse by Maggie Rudy

And others I’m not remembering in the moment. A lot of mouse books! The Dubuc and Schaapman books are an interesting contrast—the Dubuc is simply, but richly illustrated, and the Schaapman is gorgeously photographed, and each has a lot of captivating detail that gives little one (and Dad) lots to study on repeated readings.

We can’t be alone in this—what other books do you recommend for preschoolers and older?

posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I loved The Peacock Party with illustrations by Alan Aldridge when I was a kid due to the art. Masquerade by Kit Williams is in a similar vein.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:26 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Winnie the Witch (and Wilbur)!
posted by pipeski at 8:27 AM on August 21, 2018

Oh, we love these kinds of books too. Here's a few we've gone back to many times.

Journey/Quest/Return is a wordless trilogy. It can be a quick read or you can spend a lot of time figuring out the society by what's happening in the background (and you get even more out of it if you do this after you read all three books). The wordlessness invites a deep dive.

David Macaulay and Piero Ventura both have nonfiction books with whole little worlds inside.

In The Town All Year Round is lovely.

Masayuki Sebe's illustrations remind me of Richard Scarry in that there is always something buck-wild happening in the background. There is also a lot of Where's Waldo-esque "Can you find this tiny detail?" kinds of bits. We have 100 Hungry Monkey and Let's Count to 100.

Animalia is good ABC practice; each page has dozens of items that start with that letter.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you want even more mouse books, the Brambly Hedge series is quite lovely. All of the Brambly Hedge books have the most intricate settings and are mesmerizing. The only drawback is that they are somewhat sexist in gender roles, which bothers me but could be a good point of discussion perhaps.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:41 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Slightly at a tangent, but the Joelle Jolivet books Zoo-ology and Almost Everything have an awful lot to look at. If you liked those, You Choose is great fun at that age.
posted by humuhumu at 8:41 AM on August 21, 2018

Books by Graeme Base! On preview I see animalia has been mentioned.

The Eleventh Hour is the other one I know of that is particularly good. You have to solve a mystery by reading the text and looking at the pictures. Actually solving it might be a bit beyond a 4 year old but there will still be plenty of "clues" for her to find!
posted by pianissimo at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Pierre the Maze Detective is basically Where's Waldo except with mazes (every page has one or more intricate mazes to navigate, plus a load of "find X treasure chests" challenges).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have recommended Stephen Biesty's books on metafilter before for questions like this. They're some of the few books (along with some Graeme Base) I brought from my parents' house to my apartment because I still love the illustrations so much. He's got several with cross sections of famous buildings, vehicles, etc, that are my favorites. They're interesting, informative, and just packed with detail.

Another great thing about Stephen Biesty is that he always sneaks in someone using the toilet, and finding the secret pooper in a big centerfold illustration is, like, little kid comedy gold.
posted by phunniemee at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Jan Brett books have a lot of little things to find in the detailed illustrations.
posted by Swisstine at 8:48 AM on August 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman is one you may like.
posted by Altomentis at 8:50 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Richard Scarry books are my top suggestion!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:09 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ten Minutes Till Bedtime is exactly this. My son is 15 and we still look at this. :)
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:11 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Check out the wordless books by David Wiesner. The illustrations are stunning with lots of quirky details and I have purchased many of his books as gifts for friends' kids.
posted by M. at 9:13 AM on August 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Two favorites in our household - Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty (here's a representative Sample) and just about anything by Marc Boutavant but particularly Around the World with Mouk (Sample).
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:22 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thunderstorm by Arthur Geisert is my daughter's favorite book. There's no words, only a series of intricate engravings tracing the path of a thunderstorm through the countryside.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:29 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely, definitely, definitely Look! A Book! by Bob Staake.
And when that one gets old, there's Look! Another Book!

You're welcome.
posted by cleverevans at 9:32 AM on August 21, 2018

I came in to list many of the books above. We also love the Mamoko books. Some "violence" is present (swords in one of them) as an FYI for your comfort level. I linked to one but there are a few.
posted by anya32 at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

We really enjoyed many of Anno's Book.

I second the Joelle Jolivet books.
posted by beccaj at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind another mouse book, "Where's Mommy?" by Beverly Donofrio.

Also, seconding Ten Minutes Till Bedtime and other Peggy Rathman books.
posted by Kriesa at 10:18 AM on August 21, 2018

This isn't really "about" the illustrations in the same way that many of the others that have been mentioned is, but Everywhere Babies has a lot to discover in the illustrations.
posted by spamloaf at 10:18 AM on August 21, 2018

Graeme Base's books, like Animalia, sound right up your alley.
posted by goggie at 10:22 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding anything illustrated by Jan Brett; The Hat, The Mitten, and Berlioz the Bear are good 4-year-old level.
posted by nonane at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

An older but still beautiful book: Kit Williams's Masquerade. (Link goes to a blog that shows you the paintings. Here's the backstory, from a 2016 FPP. You don't need to solve the riddle to appreciate the lovely art.

ETA: Also his bee book.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:28 AM on August 21, 2018

The three Andrea Beaty books about kid scientists - "Iggy Peck, Architect", "Rosie Revere, Engineer", and "Ada Twist, Scientist" - are good for this. They have a lot to look at on each page and each book contains the other characters so my daughter has fun seeing Iggy's Sphinx in Rosie's book, for example.
posted by vunder at 10:36 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Brambly Hedge books, particularly The Secret Staircase, which was a dear favorite when I was little. Very intricate and delightful illustrations!
posted by merriment at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2018

Sounds like you might be in the market for zoekboeks/wimmelbooks.
posted by lakeroon at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Pretty much anything by Chris van Allsburg but especially The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. All of his books are amazing.

Try to ignore the movies that have been based on his books (Jumanji, Zathura, The Polar Express), they really don't represent the tone and thoughtfulness evident in his books.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:43 AM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

See here for some excellent answers to a similar, ancient question (for a younger child but some are definitely relevant).
posted by beniamino at 11:51 AM on August 21, 2018

Peter Spier's books have a lot of lovely realistic detail and reward close attention. E.G., The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, The Erie Canal, Circus!
posted by miles per flower at 12:03 PM on August 21, 2018

If you like Where's Waldo?, you'll like its predecessor, Where's Wallace? by Hilary Knight. (Look for the other recurring characters as well as Wallace the orangutan!)

Barbara McClintock's books are generally lovely. She illustrated a beautiful poetry collection curated by Natalie Merchant (who recorded a CD to go with it).

Wendell Minor's work isn't so much intricate, but it's just beautiful. I particularly love Cat, What Is That?

I'll nth Graeme Base, Jan Brett and David Wiesner also.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:31 PM on August 21, 2018

My 4YO and I are really digging Matty Long's books right now: Super Happy Magic Forest and Slug of Doom.
posted by medeine at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Dinotopia books, which are illustrated with a level of loving detail that transcends the frankly kinda goofy premise. Some nice sample pages here.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2018

Nthing Animalia. It’s a masterpiece.
posted by delight at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Jan Brett! Her books have the most beautiful, intricate, detailed illustrations, and she also has several other smaller illustrations framing each page to expand the story. Beautiful! My kids and I loved these books. A favorite is The Mitten, and especially Comet's Nine Lives about a cat's adventures living on Nantucket.
posted by primate moon at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just want to second Wiesner. We especially love Mr. Wuffles.
posted by hought20 at 2:07 PM on August 21, 2018

The Eloise series has neat, complex illustrations. Many pages have a trail of where Eloise was wreaking havoc and you can look for all the things she did.

On the less story side, the I spy books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick are beautiful and have so much hidden in them. Each page has rhymes with some things to look for, but you could also have her tell you things to look for, that she's already found. (There are readers and board books too, but the original books are so rich and can grow with a kid better, so that's what I'd recommend.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:22 PM on August 21, 2018

My kid loves these too!

I can't recommend enough
- Everything Goes series by Brian Biggs
- Little Land series by Marion Billet
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:28 PM on August 21, 2018

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon.
posted by Weftage at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Link didn't go thru so here it is again Little Land
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:50 PM on August 21, 2018

All of Peter Sís's books!
posted by yeahlikethat at 2:57 PM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Perhaps Steven Kellogg's books?
posted by neilbert at 3:00 PM on August 21, 2018

Also came in to suggest wimmelbooks. See if you can find something by Rotraut Susanne Berner.
posted by the_blizz at 3:02 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, Peter Sis! This question immediately reminded me of two of my favorite books as a kid, Peabody's First Case and Peabody All at Sea. I loved them back then. Now I love the very '70s illustrations.
posted by Mavri at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2018

The illustrations in The Sound of Colors are just stunning. There's a lot to notice and examine, plus interesting conversations to be had about sight/blindness.
posted by linettasky at 3:44 PM on August 21, 2018

My kiddo is almost four and loves At the Same Moment Around the World. The text is pretty simple but there's a lot to look at and the illustrations are lovely.
posted by centrifugal at 4:00 PM on August 21, 2018

I remember adoring The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. It illustrated that "getting ready" time that most books/movies gloss over and I loved the detail of the illustrations and how individual everyone was.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:19 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely second The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. Also Hepzibah by Peter Dickinson (one of his few picture books), which is completely nuts and very funny and has amazingly detailed illustrations. Also Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton (all about evolution) (she also wrote the Mike Mulligan book, who knew?).
posted by huimangm at 4:32 PM on August 21, 2018

Benjamin Chaud's bear books have a similar complex illustration style to Where's Waldo. They include:
-The Bear's Sea Escape
-The Bear's Surprise
-The Bear's Song

I also heartily second Graeme Base and Pierre the Maze Detective.
posted by donut_princess at 5:10 PM on August 21, 2018

Perhaps Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins? Here are a few pages, so you can get an idea of the style.

Oh, and Monica Wellington's Night House Bright House! Beautiful colors, lots to spot and count, art riffs for the grownups.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:52 PM on August 21, 2018

I don't think I saw Colin Thompson suggested yet. The illustrations are just exactly the thing.
posted by Glinn at 6:55 PM on August 21, 2018

I've only read excerpts but Grandpa's Workshop is an English language version of a French book with a story built around lot of accurate illustrations of antique woodworking tools.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:19 PM on August 21, 2018

Puzzle Island has nice drawings and hidden pictures in the illustrations (along with clues on the side of the page).
posted by tracer at 7:52 AM on August 22, 2018

A Street Through Time.
posted by paduasoy at 3:27 PM on August 22, 2018

If you can find it, The Fabulous Fairy Tale Follies by Graham Philpot (1994) features complex illustrations where you follow clues to identify the main characters in each fairy tale stage production/audition. Like such
posted by lesser weasel at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2018


Very simple words, but very, very intricate paper art.
posted by zizzle at 9:21 AM on August 23, 2018

Look a Book and Look Another Book by Bob Staake
posted by Leontine at 2:49 PM on August 23, 2018

Where Is The Cake? by TT Khing, as well as its sequel Where Is The Cake Now?. In both cases, there's no text, but there are a dozen little stories playing out across the pages if you pay close attention to the illustrations.
posted by yankeefog at 6:11 AM on September 14, 2018

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