Librarian Top 10 – Sapphia’s Best Illustrated Books

The librarian top 10 this time comes from Sapphia, an assistant community librarian based at Moor Allerton Library.

My favourite illustrated books.

I am, due to my art school background, unfortunately an illustration snob when it comes to children’s books, and that goes for bad typography too! Fortunately the world of children’s books has an abundance of illustrators that can help depict all the wondrous adventures that some of our favourite authors compose. There will be hundreds, in a world full of graphic design, an illustrator doesn’t often get the credit they are due.

I can promise you that if you think of your favourite book as a child, more often than not it will be an illustration of your favourite character or the book cover that will be what you remember first.

Here is a selection of books and illustrators that I believe show a great quality of illustration that I love.

Dear DiaryDear Diary by Sara Fanelli

Sara Fanelli is an illustrator that uses lots of beautiful handwritten typography that works as part of the whole illustration on each page. Sara creates marvellous creatures using a variety of sources included, patterned and textured papers, pens and paint, collaging them all together to create something completely new and magical. It is so easy to get lost in all of Sara’s childlike creativity and stories. Dear diary is set as the journal of various different characters including Lucy, the Ladybird and Spider and what happens on the day Lucy takes something to ‘show and tell’ at school upsetting Bubu the dog because surely Lucy should of taken him as the ‘show and tell?’. All manner of wonderful things happen! Don’t miss out.

hungry caterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

I think everyone will remember this book from their childhood. A greedy red and green caterpillar eating his way out of a variety of delicious looking food, with different sized pages and the hole punched bite marks he leaves behind. By turning each page and helping the caterpillar eat each piece of food like apples, plums and chocolate cake. It makes you the reader, really feel as though you help this delightful caterpillar transform into the beautiful butterfly he becomes. Carle creates all his illustrations by painting textures onto tissue papers and then collaging them to form shapes, this is how he is able to create colours with such depth but still have his simplistic shape.

MatildaMatilda by Roald Dahl – Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Part of the reason we all loved Roald Dahl books so much was because of the super little illustrations that you would find as chapter headings and story depictions to further your imagination. Blake uses simplistic ink brush strokes to create characters that are full of movement and life, with splashes of watercolour to emphasise the personality of each character that once again have a childlike quality. You will however often notice that a lot of his illustration still shows great detail, with a busy background to set the scene of the story you are reading. I chose Matilda as my Quentin Blake example as I don’t think any librarian should not acknowledge the story of a little girl so in love with reading. Matilda overcomes a neglectful family and a wicked head mistress, using her love of books, intellect, secret super power and a retaliation of pranks to create the happy ending she had always read about in the stories she loved.

the day the crayons quitThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt – Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The idea that your colouring crayons could outright refuse to be used seems like an absurd idea! This book utilises your child’s imagination to the extreme, getting them to ask themselves what would happen if something so odd happened in real life. Oliver Jeffers illustrates this story as if the crayons are children themselves and drawing away all their dormant emotions. Again focusing on typography, it is amazing how each coloured crayon show’s their different personality by the way they each have their own handwriting style and talk about why they are refusing to draw. All the pictures drawn by the crayon, (in real life too) possess the naivety of a child, which reminds you of how you used to draw. Or how, in fact your child does now. They will love it. As purple crayon says too, it’s worth remembering to try and colour inside the lines!

Smelly LouieSmelly Louie by Catherine Rayner

Shortlisted for the Kate Greenway Medal 2015 Smelly Louie is the story of the well-known predicament, washing the dog. Poor Louie doesn’t like the smell of roses and apple blossom; he has his own special smell and he will get it back again. Catherine Rayner creatively takes you on a journey of bubbles, water colour splashes, coffee stains, pencil scribbles and mud to make Louie the dog he longs to be. Catherine has an impeccable ability of letting the reader see the joy and disdain of Louie, the illustration style changing as Louie does. Louie is a messy water colour, ink scribble type of dog reflective of his scruffy demeanour, the array of colours and depth and his sketchy style intensifies the dirtier Louie gets and we watch him revel in his chaotic appearance. Clean or dirty, he is a very beautifully illustrated dog.

where the poppies now growWhere the Poppies Now Grow by Hilary Robinson – Illustrated by Martin Impey

Written to mark the anniversary of the start of the First World War, the illustrations still manage to convey a sense of innocence without limiting the importance of the stories message, but making it accessible to children. The water colour images in the blotchy frames create the illusion that all the illustrations are a memory with their softly drawn depiction, helping you become swept away within the rhyme narrative, a fitting tribute to the war poets of the time. Depicting War will always be difficult but using illustrations and a story that showcase a journey of friendship, courage and personal grief, Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey create a powerful reminder of the cost of war. But they also share the message that even after darkness, in humanity there is light, there is a field ‘Where the Poppies Now Grow’.

wolvesWolves– Emily Gravett

Winning the Kate Greenway Medal back in 2005 and attaining the Bronze in the Nestle Children’s Book Prize, this book already has a great start. Wolves is the story of Rabbit who goes to the Public Burrowing Library to choose a book about wolves. Emily Gravett is a fabulous author and illustrator who uses a mixed media approach to tell her stories. I will say that I believe the best part of this book is the 3d library borrower’s pocket with book card, so that the reader feels like they have checked out the book themselves. There are linear black and white pencil sketches throughout that depict the pages of the book Rabbit is reading as he moves across the pages as a 2d full colour character. Until of course the book and the Wolf comes to life! The book also offers a humorous alternative ending for readers of a more sensitive disposition and is illustrated in a way that suggests that yes, these characters have already suffered from a story ending. There is also a friendly reminder at the end of the book with a 3D overdue letter that surely Rabbit wouldn’t ignore?

Charlie and LolaI Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato by Lauren Child

Like most children Lola doesn’t really like to eat vegetables and lots of other food either so it is left up to her brother Charlie to trick Lola, convincing her that carrots are twiglets from Jupiter, mash potato is cloud fluff and best of all…tomatoes, well they are moonsquirters and they are Lola’s favourite. Lauren Child uses her characteristic mixed media collage, full of ditzy prints, patterns and block colours and Photoshop layers to build and illustrate this story. Child uses a variation of font s and font sizes and direction, used to highlight the flow of the story and to make the young reader become lost in a captivating tale which actually echoes real life. Photographic images are also used to depict the vegetables that Lola won’t eat which children can use to help them identify real vegetables with and hopefully encourage them to eat them too. Lauren Child has created an illustrative style of her own that many have tried to recreate but no one has ever been able to match her wit and clash of her classic illustration style with the world of graphic design.

Dear ZooDear Zoo by Rod Campbell

When you are a child I think more often than not your favourite books are all about animals. From a young age it can be amazing to realise just how many there are and how different, Rod Campbell’s book, Dear Zoo, has definitely helped a lot of children discover wild animals and their names. With simple illustrations, short witty narrative and explorative flaps, there is nothing more exciting than using the narrative clues to discover what has been delivered to the zoo! Rod Campbell’s illustrations start off with a simple pencil outline which he then draws over with a black ink pen. All colours are added via watercolour paint and he then uses felt tips to create detail and shading. It’s lovely to hear a felt tip being used to such great effect and shows how easily imagery can be made with a little imagination. At 33 years old Dear Zoo remains a firm favourite for children under five’s and I hope for many years longer, we might just have to ensure we get a few more copies as the poor lift-the flaps become so well worn from the love of reading it.

Double ActDouble Act by Jaqueline Wilson – Illustrated by Nick Sharratt and Sue Heap

I almost left Nick Sharratt off the list, as his illustrations are generally very simple, with a comic style and simple black outline, which I generally don’t love as much as an illustrative style. However to me as a young child/almost teenager Jacqueline Wilson books illustrated by Nick Sharratt evoked all the weird emotions and stuff going on in my little world that nobody else talked about, because it might imply you weren’t ‘normal’. All Jacqueline Wilsons stories involve characters that aren’t perfect, but they are real and living in real life situations, with that she helps kids to realise that even if there are things in your life that aren’t going quite right it doesn’t make you any less of person/ kid.

Out of all of the wonderful Jacqueline Wilson’s books, I have chosen Double Act, as a twin sister myself the characters Ruby and Garnet resonated with me, a world seemingly collapsing around them and with changing personalities, can they still be the same sisters they have always been? When you’re a twin believe me this can be the scariest thing in the world and this story helped me realise that this stuff happens, but it can be overcome. Nick Sharratt’s and Sue Heap’s illustrations are dotted throughout the book, fantastic for the younger reader, giving a break from reading but also adding purpose, helping the reader identify with the characters.

I recently gave a family member my collection of Jacqueline Wilson Books, I collected all of them, and they were in beautiful, prized condition. I’m still wondering if it was one of the worst decisions of my life……

Picking 10 books, I have barely touched the surface of amazing illustration in books, but I hope this list will encourage you to discover your favourites.

A good illustration captivates you; it can make a story real and help a book, become a memory.

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