5 beautifully illustrated children’s books you’ll want to read over and over again

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Children’s books that both tell beautiful stories — whether they’re of small yet courageous mice or artists flitting around Paris in the 1920s — have always captivated me and been part of our bedtime reading ritual. Here are few that I especially adore:

Amos and Boris

I bought Amos and Boris for my then two-year-old for two reasons: author William Steig uses the word phosphorescent to describe the sea (and when do you REALLY see phosphorescent used in books that target toddlers and young children?) and the illustrations are gorgeous. The story is about Amos, a mouse, and Boris, a whale, who quickly become life-long friends after Boris saves Amos after a shipwreck. Eventually Amos is able to return the life-saving favor, and the two never see each other again. CUE TEARS.

The Three Questions

The Three Questions is based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story of the same title. In this version young Nikolai asks three questions — What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do — and receives his answer via a series of events that transpire with his animal friends. All of the illustrations are done with watercolors, and the book itself feels so simultaneously light and heavy that you’ll forget it’s an adaptation for kids. Seriously.

Paris in the Spring with Picasso

Paris in the Spring with Picasso is just fun — it’s kind of like the movie Midnight in Paris, but it’s a book! For kids! You traipse around Paris and visit with Gertrude Stein, who is getting ready for a party she’s throwing that evening while Apollinaire and Max Jacob are writing and Picasso is painting in a corner. The book also drops plenty of French, so you can use it as an opportunity to add a dash of bilingualism to your kidlet’s life.

Blowin’ in the Wind

I’m a big-time fan of John Muth’s effort to turn famous Bob Dylan songs into children’s books. My favorite (so far) is Blowin’ in the Wind (others include Man Gave Names to All the Animals Forever Young) for the simple fact that the watercolor (again!) illustrations are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The amount of time spent on each and the sheer dedication of the illustrator is palpable, and the large size of the book makes you feel like you’re reading something beyond a child’s comprehension — but it’s not. Reading this book definitely opened my son’s mind to a few new questions (“How many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?” particularly grabbed him), and the discussions that followed are well worth it.

The Cloud Spinner

Oohhh, The Cloud Spinner! I saved this one for last because it’s the newest addition to our son’s library of books and it’s spectacular. The plot may remind Dr. Seuss fans of The Lorax — a young boy as the ability to weave cloth from the clouds, and chooses to weave only what he needs. The king of a local villages spots his cloud scarf and demands an entire wardrobe made from the same material, and eventually the clouds are drained. The village suffers from a drought, until all is put right again. The pro-environmentalism story combined with the BRIGHT illustrations have made this easily one of my favorite kid’s books of all time.

What beautifully illustrated kid’s books do you guys love?

Comments on 5 beautifully illustrated children’s books you’ll want to read over and over again

  1. I will always love The Velveteen Rabbit. About how age/time may change who you are, and how you are seen; but as long as you are loved it doesn’t matter.
    I loved it so much I had it at my wedding! 😀

    • the velveteen rabbit scared me as a kid, honestly it still makes me uncomfortable. something about “the skin horse” and sick kids having to burn all of their toys/friends literally kept me up nights.

      • I adore it now but empathise with you on the horror, I was given it at 5 and it disturbed me so much that I hid it away. It was the burning that stuck with me. And the conclusion wasn’t explained to me in a way I understood for a year or so, which is funny in retrospect.

  2. Thanks for sharing these! I’m always interested in new children’s books.

    I have some favorites from my own childhood that i bought a few years ago just to have and now i’m so happy to share them with my baby boy.

    Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges with illustrations by Trina Shart Hyman is one of the best written and most beautifully illustrated children’s books i have ever seen! Its images, both written and illustrated, have haunted me since i first picked the book up in my elementary school library at the age of around 5 or 7 or so… which is why as an adult i sought the book out on amazon and had to buy it.

    At the same time i bought two other books that wouldn’t leave me alone:

    The Wizard’s Daughter written and illustrated by Chris Conover. First book i ever checked out from the library. I’ve been enchanted with it since i was only 5 years old. Perfectly beautiful!

    The Last Slice of Rainbow and Other Stories by Joan Aiken with illustrations by Alix Berenzy. Very magical and somewhat bizarre modern faerytale-esque stories. I used to sit in a tree in my back yard to read this one!f

    • Reading your description of Saint George and the Dragon I though to myself, “Is that the one I had as a kid?” and then clicked and link and said “HOLY CRAP THAT’S TOTALLY THE ONE I HAD!”

      I loved the pictures in that one too 🙂

  3. I really love anything by Mo Willems. His illustrations are hilarious. Leonardo, the Terrible Monster allowed me to explain footnotes to my daughter.

    I also really love a book called Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari. It’s about a little ballerina who has to chase Degas through Paris because he has her tutu and she has his paints. It’s really cute. She meets a ton of artists.

  4. From my own childhood, I love One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian. My husband and I also recently discovered Henri’s Walk to Paris, which is illustrated by Saul Bass who did some of the title sequences to Hitchcock films. I think the graphics may be more appealing to us than to our future kids, but I dig it.

    • I am obsessed with this book! I originally bought it as a gift for a friend of mine but couldn’t bring myself to give it away. When I was living alone abroad I would frequently pull it out and read it to myself. Now that I’m back in Canada I sometimes get my friends to read it to me, and when we have company staying at our apartment I insist everyone read it before bed.

      I don’t even care if it is weird for someone without kids to love this book so much.

      IT MAKES MY HEART HAPPY!

  5. Better Haunted Homes and Gardens by Jennifer C Barnes and Kristen Margiotta!!! Whats even better is she is a local artist from little old Delaware and i was lucky enough to purchase a signed copy at a local art gallery. 🙂 it’s creepy/cute and my kids love it!!!

  6. Books approved by my 5 year old daughter (that i secretly love as much as she does):

    The Book of Giant Stories by David L Harrison
    It’s Bedtime! by Brigitte Weninger
    Raven: a Trickster tale from the Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott
    The Clown of God by Tommie dePaola
    Papa, Please get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

  7. Amos & Boris! I’m a Grade 1 teacher, and my school uses a program called From 3 to 3 (age 3 to Grade 3) which is designed to raise language, narrative and social understanding skills of children.

    http://www.from3to3.com/

    Amos and Boris is one of the books selected to be part of the program at the Grade 1 level. I don’t know if I would have ever been exposed to it otherwise.

    As far as awesome picture books go, I know so many it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’d start by saying just about anything by Neil Gaiman is amazing (except the Alphabet Book. I remember reading it in a bookstore, and going, huh? at the ending.). I love his story about how he came to write The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.

    Chris Van Allsburg is another author well worth checking out.

    Celebrity authors are often horrible, but John Lithgow is a welcome exception. Marsupial Sue and The Remarkable Farkle McBride, are especially fun.

    There’s also a picture book based on his collaboration with the New York Ballet, where he wrote and narrated the story for a ballet based on the Carnival of the Animals. Oh, and look for him in the picture in the back of the book, in costume with the other dancers. He danced the part of the Elephant/School Nurse!

    Weslandia by Paul Fleischman is another favourite. It’s about a nerdy boy who never really fit in in his neighbourhood, and how he goes about founding his own civilization.

  8. I LOVE Old Turtle by Douglas Wood and Cheng-Khee Chee. Gorgeous watercolors and a story that never fails to bring a happy sigh to my heart.

    • This is my favorite!! I started reading it to my daughter when she was brand new just because it’s so peaceful. I love remembering how my mom would read it in a slow deep voice to me and now I do it for her.

  9. Oh, and in terms of beautiful illustrations, it is hard to beat the Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel illustrated Paul O. Zelinsky. He has won multiple Caldecott Medals (award for best illustrated American Picture book) for his work.

  10. I love this thread! The books I had as a child had such an impact on my life. My nominations:

    Yes, Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God is exquisite. Out of print but worth buying on eBay is his Prince of the Dolomites. Also, The Legend of Old Befana.
    A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
    Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series
    The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
    I Wish I Was Sick, Too! illustrated by Aliki

    And finally, not the best regarding illustration but a phenomenal story (especially for girls): Liza Lou And The Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer.

  11. Some of my favorite children’s book are:

    And Tango Makes Three- a beautiful true story about two gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo and their path to parenthood.

    Blueberry Girl- As was mentioned in another comment above. This book really holds a place in my heart, as I bet it would with any female regardless of their age.

    A Giant Love Story- I stumbled across this little gem in the Reykjavik airport (translated from its original Icelandic version). It truly is a moving story love story, it has brought several of my friends to tears.

    Miss Rumphius- This was a favorite of mine as a kid (and still is), it’s a heartwarming story that follows the life of a young girl as she becomes an adult/elderly and pursues her life goal of making the world a more beautiful place.

  12. owl and the moon by arnold lobel…the stories are universally appealing. my three year old son and i love them for their quirkiness.

    i always loved the alfie and annie rose series as a chiild too and anything by janet and allen ahlberg (especially the postman series).

  13. I always recommend the Paper Bag Princess. It is a wonderful book and kept my mother and I laughing. Also the original Shrek (the one they based the movie off of, not a movie spin-off) is a wonderful book. It’s also a great idea to check out children’s books from local authors so you can share stories that take place in your own hometown!

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