Beautiful books for little kids.
March 1, 2006 5:32 PM   Subscribe

My niece turns two in a month, and I'd like your recommendations for a beautifully illustrated children's book.

When I was a little girl, I had a collection of Grimm's fairy tales (can't recall the edition, alas) featuring very large, highly colorful and extremely well drawn illustrations on creamy paper. Even before I could read, the pictures captivated me. I want to give a present like this to my niece: a truly beautiful, art-quality book to help sustain her interest in reading and that she can love for all her life. I'll consider longer stories, but something shorter, that her parents can easily read to her at bedtime, would be ideal.

Another, slightly longer shot: I have a visual dictionary and wonder if anything like it exists for small children. The closest equivalents I can think of are the Richard Scarry books.

Thanks for any help.
posted by melissa may to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you can find it, the older additions of Wind in the Willows were just wonderful.
Good, fun story too. Stay away from the abridged Disney versions though.
posted by Eddie Mars at 5:41 PM on March 1, 2006

There are lots of books that fit your criteria, it sort of depends on the kind of illustrations and subject matter that you like best.

Eric Carle's work is well-known and well-done, I like his latest, but you can't go wrong with a classic like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, or perhaps you'd like to buy a set of his books.

The original Winnie the Pooh books are great, I had a set of them as a child.

I could go on for a while, but mainy I suggest looking at winners of the Caledcott Medal for exellence in American children's picture books. Here's a list of the winners from 1938 to the present.
posted by nuclear_soup at 5:47 PM on March 1, 2006

uh, that's mainly. Should have spell-checked.
posted by nuclear_soup at 5:48 PM on March 1, 2006

Anything illustrated by Maurice Sendak is amazing. I highly recommend In the Night Kitchen and the Nutshell Library.
posted by amelliferae at 5:48 PM on March 1, 2006

I always loved Jumanji and other Chris Van Allsburg books growing up. They are beautifully illustrated.
posted by Crushinator at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2006

Off the top of my head, this and this are amazing.
posted by cerebus19 at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2006

I think this version of The Velveteen Rabbit is just beautiful. I buy it for all of my friends when they have babies. The illustrations are by Donna Green and they are so rich. Unfortunately, the "search inside" link on this page takes you a different version not illustrated by Donna Green. Get the Donna Green version and you'll be happy.
posted by lilybeane at 5:51 PM on March 1, 2006

Rosemary Wells's Yoko's Paper Cranes. Beautiful origami papers.
posted by ldenneau at 5:54 PM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: Animalia by Graeme Base
posted by scubbadubba at 5:54 PM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: It's not a story, strictly speaking, but Animalia is so visually intriguing. All of Graeme Base's books are beautiful.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:57 PM on March 1, 2006

Hmm. I was going to recommend The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast because the illustrations are absolutely stunning, but it's apparently no longer in print.

I also like the Beatrix Potter Books for their illustrations.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:03 PM on March 1, 2006

Well, plainly, I am in agreement with scubbadubba.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:06 PM on March 1, 2006

Not a specific book, per se, but Trina Schart Hyman does amazing illustrations--really gorgeous, detailed stuff. I know she illustrated a few of Grimm's fairy tales--plug her name into Amazon and see what comes up.

Second the recommendation to look at Caldecott winners.
posted by fuzzbean at 6:09 PM on March 1, 2006

Jane Yolen's book Greyling was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. It is a selchie story [like Legend of Roan Inish - child turns into seal] not too long but full of beautiful pictures. A bit hard to find, I saw a copy on ebay, not cheap. There are a few copies around with different illustrators, the one with William Stobbs' pictures are the best.
posted by jessamyn at 6:19 PM on March 1, 2006

Busy, Busy City Street by Cari Meister, with illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia, is totally beautiful and would work for a child younger than reading age (the big, funny lettering is one of the best parts). Unfortunately I am only able to find it online second-hand -- but it seems to be relatively easy to track down. I have given it as a gift in the past and the parents like it too! I have a copy of my own.

I was a Goodnight Moon fan back in the day.
posted by sophieblue at 6:25 PM on March 1, 2006

My kids were attracted to illustrations that had lots of new things to discover every time they looked, not necessarily "beautiful" books. The Richard Scarry books are made up primarily of illustrations (Busytown was a favorite) that have lots of little things going on in each picture. Goodnight Moon was also a hit, because it has picture references to other books by the same authors (always an "aha!" when it's discovered).

Maybe a bit pedestrian, but the I Spy series were popular in my house for years and years. They're photographs, but they're beatifully done and once you find the items on the page, you can make a list of more items for them to discover.
posted by Flakypastry at 6:34 PM on March 1, 2006

Ezra Jack Keats! My personal favorite is The Snowy Day. I believe he was a collagist as well as a ... painter? Watercolorist? I dunno much about this art stuff but even at age 38 I am captivated by his books. Such rich tones and textures.

Another, who was for sure a collagist, is Leo Lionni. I recommend Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse.

I also recommend you ask a children's librarian for recommendations. They should know--and they will.
posted by scratch at 6:35 PM on March 1, 2006

My seven year old sister who now is an avid reader (Harry Potter book five!) was captivated by Rainbow Fish at age two (it's sparkly and about sharing).
posted by honeyx at 6:36 PM on March 1, 2006

I was recently struck by the beautiful simplicity of the illustrations accompanying the wonderful story Frederick by Leo Lionni. Lionni aparently has quite a few books and was recommended to me by someone that works in the field of children's literacy.
posted by john m at 6:40 PM on March 1, 2006

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!
posted by sian at 6:41 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Try one of Pinkwater's picks.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:47 PM on March 1, 2006

One thing would be to get chummy with your local bookstore clerk. Whoever runs the children's section will know which ones are printed in nice, colorful editions.
posted by radioamy at 6:52 PM on March 1, 2006

On Market Street, Arnold and Anita Lobel.
posted by Tufa at 6:57 PM on March 1, 2006

Sendak. amelliferae wins.

I got my daughter "Where the Wild Things Are" for her second birthday (half a year ago). She loves it, but what she's really nuts about is "Outside Over There." But based on your question, I think the one for you is "Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present."
posted by Eothele at 7:02 PM on March 1, 2006

This is a bookstore down the street from me (but from which you can order online). I went to the site to look for an older edition of Elizabeth Gordon's Flower Children, which captivated me as a little kid. That one's sold out (although available through Amazon), but there are a ton of ideas there (unless you're sticking with brand new books).

Also, there are some beautiful new editions of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince out there. I love the drawings in that story.
posted by amro at 7:05 PM on March 1, 2006

Since I'm sure you'll get plenty of recommendations for American and European books, I'll toss in a suggestion for a classic from my country: Guri and Gura by the sisters Rieko Nakagawa and Yuriko Yamawaki. Here's a review. These little guys have been around since I was a child myself. My son loved the series when he was your niece's age, and still won't let me give them away although he's clearly outgrown them.

Probably more in the vein of what you're looking for is Mistumasa Anno. Here's an interview. Lovely, detailed illustrations that use few words, so both little children and adults have things to see in them.
posted by misozaki at 7:06 PM on March 1, 2006

Hug by Jez Alborough.
posted by acoutu at 7:27 PM on March 1, 2006

Rootabaga Stories, by Carl Sandburg. 1920.
posted by The White Hat at 7:39 PM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: The Rainbow Goblins. Ul de Rico.

The colors are incredibly rich. Luscious, in fact.
posted by tentacle at 7:41 PM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: My husband and I were fans of illustrator Peter Sis long before our sons were born. Madlenka and Madlenka's Dog have been two favorites; they can stare at the details in the pictures for a long time.
posted by bibliowench at 7:52 PM on March 1, 2006

The Tomten. I loved this book so much.
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:57 PM on March 1, 2006

I have always loved the pairing of Audrey and Don Wood (the latter is the illustrator) for the fairy tales and rich painted illustrations especially on Heckedy Peg and Quick as a Cricket (actually the book I learned to read from, having memorized it from so many many repeated askings)

I also adore Barbara Cooney, illustrator and author of many children's books, all bright and sweet. My own personal favorite was always Miss Rumphius.

(As a kid I also had a simply beautiful picture book of a Norwegian folk talk of a clever girl standing up to the North Wind for stealing flor, but I can't seem to find it. I will try to find the author from my mum, I suspect it is out of print. It's not Willa and the Wind, although that one is pretty)
posted by nelleish at 8:04 PM on March 1, 2006

Nobody seems to have mentioned Robert Sabuda. Pop-up books are so much fun! And his are works of art!
posted by misozaki at 8:10 PM on March 1, 2006

Norbert Nipkin has stunningly beautiful "painting" illustrations, and a lovely, captivating story. I still have an urge to stroke the pages when i look at this book.

(Don't be dismayed by the slightly scary illustration on the cover - its not a scary book at all. In fact, the moral is 'don't judge the book by its cover/people by their looks'.)
posted by Kololo at 8:11 PM on March 1, 2006

A book called Piggies - by the Woods. The piggies are fingers - we read it every single night for two or three years. A two-year-old can hold up her fingers and follow along. It's great for making up sound effects. The illustrations are priceless (same characters in different situations) - and it's clever enough that adults don't get tired of it. Plus, it's designed as a bedtime book, so perfect for tucking.
posted by clarkstonian at 9:08 PM on March 1, 2006

Robert McCloskey's books, especially "Blueberries for Sal" and "One Morning in Maine," have beautiful black-and-white illustrations (and if you want color, his "Time of Wonder" also is quite good). He also wrote and illustrated the famous "Make Way for Ducklings," but I like those first two the best!

There's also a great book called "Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch" by Nancy Willard with lovely painted illustrations (very fanciful, but not scary like the real Bosch's!)

I also remember loving Nancy Ekholm Burkert's illustrations in an edition of "Snow White".

Oh, and one more! The first book I ever read all the way through by myself - "What the Wind Told" by Betty D. Boegehold is a wonderful, somewhat surreal little story with great illustrations by one Emanuel Schongut.
posted by bubukaba at 9:08 PM on March 1, 2006

I like J. Otto Seibold.
posted by birdie birdington at 9:33 PM on March 1, 2006

posted by magwich at 9:38 PM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: A Frog Prince remains one of my favorite books from childhood. I would get lost in the illustrations for long stretches of time. After rediscovering this book deep in the recesses of my folks' basement, the images and the story still hold up. It's outstanding. Used to make me cry.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 10:58 PM on March 1, 2006

I loved the original Dinotopia book as a kid. Just amazing illustrations..
posted by MJaffaDMB at 11:24 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Possum Magic and Koala Lou by Australian children's author Mem Fox are just lovely. As an adult, my favourite book of hers is Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge - a beautiful, sad, touching book about an old lady who loses her memories and the little boy who helps her find them again - but that may be a little advanced for a two year old.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:31 AM on March 2, 2006

Elizabeth Stone Gallery sells children's book illustrations and has many pretty pictures to see. It's not a very navigable website, but there are a lot of sample images from the artists.
posted by disclaimer at 4:46 AM on March 2, 2006

I'd second Beatrix Potter. Someone just bought my son The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, and he can't get enough of the pictures. Also, the text is nicely spaced around the images, so picture/word association seems likely.
posted by StuMiller at 4:51 AM on March 2, 2006

Best answer: I love reading to my daughter (who turns four this year), so, as you can imagine, I've become very familiar with many of the picture books currently on the market. This is a golden age for children's books, and there are some highly talented illustrators out there -- Charlotte Voake (Here Comes The Train is perfect for a two-year-old), Quentin Blake (the Mrs Armitage books are great favourites in our household), Posy Simmonds (Lulu and the Flying Babies), Emily Gravett (featured in the Guardian only the other day -- her first book, Wolves, has a dark sense of humour which you don't often find in children's books), and I could go on, and on ..

But if I've understood your question correctly, you're not just looking for a well-illustrated children's book -- you want a well-illustrated classic that a child will want to keep and treasure for years. That's more difficult. When I was growing up in the 1970s, some of the books I loved most were old classics with new pictures, like Edward Lear's The Quangle Wangle's Hat illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, or Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner illustrated by C. Walter Hodges. (Those water-snakes! Even today, when I read the Ancient Mariner, I can see Hodges' pictures in my mind's eye.) Books like these aren't so easy to find any more. I've even had difficulty finding a good illustrated edition of classic fairy-tales suitable for a three-year-old. (You'd think it would be easy to find, but it isn't. Disney's 'Princess' brand seems to have driven all other fairy tales out of the market. *sigh*)

Recently, I've taken to buying children's books secondhand, via Abebooks, so that I don't have to limit myself to books currently in print. It's been wonderful to rediscover old favourites like Alice & Martin Provensen's A Peaceable Kingdom (a Shaker ABC -- gorgeous pictures), or Nicola Bayley's The Tyger Voyage, or Edward Lear's The Jumblies with Edward Gorey's illustrations. With children's books, as with so much else, it can be very rewarding to do a bit of research in order to find something slightly off the beaten track -- and thankfully, the Internet makes that kind of research so much easier than it used to be. But if you want something in print, how about Lavender's Blue, the classic edition of English nursery rhymes, beautfully illustrated by Harold Jones and recently reissued in a very handsome hardback edition?
posted by verstegan at 5:57 AM on March 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

My favorite illustrations are in The Runaway Bunny I love the mother bunny drawn as the wind. It's by the same person that did Goodnight moon.

Also try:
The grouchy ladybug (Eric Carle)
I love you forever (Robert Munsch)
posted by kechi at 11:23 PM on March 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. I looked at all your suggestions that I could fine -- it made for an afternoon project! -- and I am reluctant to pick any as "best" because you all were so thoughtful and led me to such wonderful things. In the end, I was most powerfully struck by Graeme Base, and am ordering Animalia and The Watering Hole for my niece because they seem to be the perfect length and are just so very beautiful. I fell in love with Peter Sis too, and Ul de Rico for birthdays down the road (and maybe just for copies to keep around the house).

Thanks again for helping me make me niece happy.
posted by melissa may at 10:04 PM on March 3, 2006

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