What's the best illustrated picture book for kids? As an art-literate creative, you're not going to be content with giving your children (or your friends and relatives children) something from the hundreds of twee and poorly-drawn picture books that are released every year. You want something that’s going to stimulate you visually as much as them – especially if you spend as much time reading to and with your kids as I do.
So to help you out, I've collected 10 of the best picture books that feature the level of illustration we'd be happy to run on
Digital Arts, books that help you to pass on your love and understanding of considered, creative art to your children (and others).
Some of these are classics – I grew up reading
Where The Wild Things Are and The Tiger Who Came To Tea – and some are more modern releases that are firm favourites with both me and my children. A couple aren’t strictly picture books – though I doubt anyone's going to be that pedantic about what the definition of a picture books – but I’ve included them as they include wonderful artworks and can encourage young kids weaned on picture books to discover other forms of children’s literature.
Read on to see the list (using the controls above or on the image, if you're on a desktop browser. If you're on mobile, just scroll down).
Is your or your children’s favourite on the list - or have I missed them? Let me know in the comments below.
First published in 1983,
’s painted artworks feel like they should be from an earlier age – but the driving force of the story is as relevant now as it was in the early 80s (and for much time before). A child feels neglected by her father, who she feels works too hard and never has time for her. The night before her birthday, a Gorilla Gorilla toy given to her by her father comes to live and leads her on some wonderful adventures.
One of the key appeals of Anthony’s artwork – and one of his trademarks – is the inclusion of hidden details. The outline of a treeline in the distance features the silhouette of a gorilla, and the painting of Mona Lisa has a distinctly simian appearance. Finding these details encourages children to explore each illustration, which is both fun and increases their understanding and appreciation of art.
Chris Haughton, A Bit Lost
’s plot is one well-travelled by children’s books – a small animal loses its parent/s and receives unhelpful help from another creature/ other creatures until, by a process of elimination, they are reunited (see also Julia Donaldson’s A Bit Lost Monkey Puzzle).
Chris Haughton’s rough-edged artworks that give A Bit Lost its charm – a style of artwork that’s distinctly different from the usual naive styles of many children’s book that pretend to have been drawn by a child. The style is distinct and really brings out the emotions of the owls, squirrel, frog and others.
Read our interview with Chris about
creating artworks for a children’s ward at the Royal London Hospital.
The Sleep Book
It’s so well known that it’s easy to forget how good Theodor Seuss Geisel’s art is.
Like his wordplay, the artworks he created under the pen name of Dr Seuss are a celebration of the power of imagination. His worlds may seem chaotic and inconsistent, but they have their own internal logic and rules – just like the adult world seems to children.
Dr Seuss’s ABC and The Cat In The Hat books are best known, is where really where he let his imagination carry the reader through. It's packed with imaginary creatures from the Foona Lagoona Baboona to the Collapsible Frink, as well as the Chippendale Mupp. Plus I’ve found it very easy get my daughter off to sleep reading this (the small print: it’s not guaranteed, your child may vary). The Sleep Book
I Want My Hat Back
A lot of kids books are overflowing with niceness. The characters are charming – or at least inoffensive – they have a lovely time and nothing worse than a mild upset that’s made good at the end, with lessons learned all round.
is not one of those books. While it’s not gonna traumatise children, all of its animals are a bit weird, nobody seems to be having fun and someone gets eaten. I Want My Hat Back Jon Klassen’s expressionless, textured animals are the perfect accompaniment to the book’s deadpan humour.
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
This 1968 book sees a scene of a mother and daughter having tea, in a world rendered straight out of a Ladybird book, interrupted by a "big, furry, stripy tiger”.
Whether the tiger is friendly or menacing (or both) is the subject of much debate. In my experience, children love the tiger and find it cuddly, while adults find its intrusion into the family and imposing size next to the girl a bit threatening (also, it’s a tiger). There has also been an attempt by the likes of Michael Rosen to link the tiger to the Nazis - as Judith’s family fled Germany just before they came to power after her father was publicly critical of them. Judith herself has denied any direct link.
Adults are very good at seeing things in children’s books that are and aren't there, such as the giggling that ensued when Bill Oddie read the line about that it couldn’t be the delivery boy at the door, “as it wasn’t the day when he came” at a recent reading at St Pancras station.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland, as it’s normally called, isn’t a picture book per se, it’s a full-on novella – but it’s a great choice for older children looking for longer text but with some wonderful artwork to accompany.
As you’d expect from an out-of-copyright book, there are many different editions available with illustrations from the well-known 1865 edition with art by Sir John Tenniel to the very rare 1959 Swedish edition with art by Moomins author and artist Tove Jannsen. The
edition shown here is one of my favourites, a brand new reprint of a 1989 version with art by Anthony Browne – featuring his characteristic hidden details.
isn’t a picture book. It’s a comic or graphic novel (depending on how stuck up your are about such things). But this book by acclaimed indie-comic author Hildafolk Luke Pearson as easy to follow as a picture book and, like many featured here, is set in an unreal world of imagination that draws visually from both European/American comic traditions and Japanese manga.
The work is beautifully detailed and the print finish is wonderful – which makes the book feel a lot more special to your children than an easily torn cheap paperback.
Luke has created two sequels to
Hildafolk: Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade.
Hildafolk is also a much better way to get your kids into comics than Peppa Pig magazines.
Where The Wild Things Are
is the favourite children’s picture book of almost every artist, designers, animator or director I know. It’s mine too. Max is the epitome of every little boy - wanting to run off and do his own thing for a while, but drawn back to his parents and home comforts in the end. Where The Wild Things Are
The forested world of the Wild Things is wonderfully realised, as are the Things themselves – who are terrifically exciting but also genuinely menacing. And the energy and fervour of the Wild Rumpus make for some iconic artworks.
Lost and Found
Oliver Jeffers' second book – and the first to bring together the boy and his penguin – is a heartwarming tale of adventure and friendship. A penguin turns up at the door of a small boy, and the boy attempts to get him home again.
Oliver’s distinctive style is charmingly simple without being reductive. There’s also a pop-up and flaps version of the book, engineered by
Corina Fletcher, that heightens then sense of adventure and exploration.
If your children love this book and you find yourselves in East London, visit the Discover Centre in Stratford, which has an
Oliver Jeffers-themed series of playrooms – including a Lost and Found office, the boy’s bedroom and the South Pole – that are quite wonderful.
is probably better known for the animated adaption of Raymond Briggs’ book that’s on every Christmas than for the book itself (which isn’t actually set at Christmas). Like many traditions, the film – and, by extension, the book – are seen as cliched, which can make the charming pastel artworks seem twee. The Snowman
But the warmth of Raymond’s artwork – which is all readers have to go on, as there are no words – lulls the viewer so that they’re unprepared for the end of the book, which is guaranteed to bring tears to your children’s eyes. So have the tissues ready before starting.