I always think books for preschoolers have an extremely sensible ratio of words to pictures. And the pictures are everything to the under-five crowd. Have a look at their faces the next time you’re reading one with striking, colourful illustrations. Their jaw drops. They can’t resist touching the page with their fingers, like they want to jump inside (confession: I do this too). Lovely artwork can make up for a lacklustre story, but when the words are good and the pictures transporting, the whole thing comes alive.
I make a habit of hunting out books with gorgeous pictures. I can’t help it. They’re a thing of beauty, and I like having beautiful things on our shelves.
Here are five books with jaw-dropping illustrations we love extra-hard:
Lion and Mouse, by Catalina Echeverri
‘Lion thought he was much better than Mouse in every way.
And he said so.
All day. Every day.’
This is a funny, wise story about an impressive Lion who can’t stop going on about himself, until he needs help from his small friend Mouse. But the pictures! The animals are drawn in a quirky, humorous style, with tons of pattern and colour. The back page is the best, trust me. I always say ‘ooohhhh’. I haven’t seen this book out and about much; we brought it back for H from Paris a couple of years ago. The first-time author-illustrator deserves to be better known.
The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers
whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world.’
I couldn’t write a list of illustration books without including one from the mighty Jeffers. His ‘Once there was a boy’ series (How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, Up and Down, The Way Back Home) is probably the best place to start for younger listeners, and those illustrations are out of this world. But The Heart and the Bottle is just stunning. It tells the story of a little girl interested in everything, until she experiences a deep loss and shuts herself away. The way Jeffers draws what’s happening in her head is touching and lovely. I dare you not to cry. Double dare you.
London ABC, by Ben Hawkes
We love London. Our boys love going there too, so this is a delight. Fantastic for very young readers, it’s the illustrations that make it. You can follow the penguin as he escapes from the Zoo and tours the city, trying his hand at a bit of Shakespeare (G is for Globe!) and waving a flag at the Olympics (S is for Stadium!) as well as hitting the usual tourist spots like B-is-for-Big-Ben and N-is-for-Nelson’s-Column. On each page there are other things beginning with the same letter, and at the end there’s a long list of London landmarks to visit.
The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen
‘You might be afraid of the dark,
but the dark is not afraid of you.’
If you were a teenage Lemony Snicket fan like I was, the discovery that he’s moved into picture books might make you a bit dizzy with happiness. This is a cracker: poetic, unusual, and totally unlike anything else I’ve seen on preschooler shelves. Lazlo is afraid of the dark, and one night it comes to find him. The illustrations convey dark and light – angular torch light, the particular orange light at sunset – perfectly. Honestly, the boys can’t keep their eyes off it. GET IT. GET IT NOW.
Augustus and His Smile, by Catherine Rayner
‘He swam to the bottom of the deepest oceans
And splished and splashed with shoals of tiny fish.’
This book won Best New Illustrator in the Booktrust Early Years awards, and you can see why: it’s beautiful. Oh, just so beautiful. Augustus the tiger wakes up and has lost his smile, so he goes exploring all over the world to find it again. Seas, jungles, deserts and rainstorms are depicted in vivid colour, and Augustus himself is a whiskery orange marvel. I can’t really do justice to how lovely this is, but you can put it into Google Images and see for yourself.
Go forth and read, book-hunters!
Previous ‘Five Books…’ posts are here.