Children’s Books with Great Artwork

This tweet came in from jimhill @euonymous what are your favorite books? writers? illustrators? always looking for great inspiration.

Ok, Jim, this is all your fault.  I decided I’d look around my collection of children’s books, which, fortunately, is pretty much on two shelves, and see what was there.  Problem, of course, is that “children’s books” (which was where this discussion began) are not simply children’s books.  The best of them appeal to all ages.  Part of that may be the stories, but, let’s admit it, a big piece of their appeal is the artwork.  Who can resist Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass? … but only with Arthur Rackham‘s or (preferably) John Tenniel’s illustrations.



I am not a fan of recent Disney output and artwork of that ilk (not keen on anime and manga, either).  Having said that, Fantasia is one of my favorite animated movies.  Early Disney is preferable to later Disney Corp I think.  (De gustibus non est disputandum.) An artist friend who worked for Hallmark Cards told me that they did not allow anything to be “pointy.”  Bunnies could not have pointy ears.  They had to have “rounded” ears.  Give me a break.  Current Disney output is sanitized corporate artwork.  It is a style that does not appeal to me.  But, having said that, if you are looking for commercial success, you have to be blatantly realistic about what sells.  What one might hang on one’s wall is not necessarily what one wants to illustrate a children’s book to maximize sales.  Emphasis on the word sales.  When it comes to earning a living, I respect those who have been able to do so while maintaining an artistic vision.  Hey, look at Van Gogh… life is tough.  Which is probably why “Art is what you can get away with.”

Children’s Books in my library:


Judith Viorst: Sunday Morning (art by Hilary Knight) <any and every book by Judith Viorst is wonderful.  Alexander and the Terrible, Awful, Very Bad Day (art by Ray Cruz); The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, etc., etc. as well as her books for adults.  The woman is fantastic in her output for children and adults. She is a psychologist, after all.>


John S. Goodall: The Midnight Adventures of Kelly, Dot, and Esmeralda (there are no words in this book… it is beautiful illustrations, beautiful colors, a beautiful story… also clever conceptually… each 2 pg spread has a half page in between that makes the spread a totally different picture depending on how you flip it… and, yes, I love pop up books, too.)


Margot Zemach: It Could Always Be Worse <cute, humorous, while it’s nice to have full page illustration throughout a book, it’s even more charming to have the text and illustrations integrated… nice layout>


Diane Paterson: EAT! <if this doesn’t make you at least smile in 45 seconds, nothing will… that’s how long it’ll take you to read the book>


Florence Parry Heide: Treehorn’s Treasure (art by Edward Gorey)

Peter R. Neumeyer: Donald and the… (art by Edward Gorey)


Edward Gorey: Double Feature – Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses <there’s a pattern here… around my house there are a lot of Edward Gorey books, as there should be around any proper home.  I remember his Dracula theater set with fondness. There is an Edward Gorey House museum in Yarmouthport, MA and you can follow them on Twitter @edwardgorey.  If you’re the sort of person who enjoyed the Norman Rockwell museum out in Stockbridge, MA, you will love this, too.>


e. e. cummings: Fairy Tales (art by John Eaton)  <I like the dustcover better than the internal art, actually I have the hardcover AND the  paperback on this one for some reason, probably because I always loved e. e. cummings>

Dragon Kite

Nancy Luenn: The Dragon Kite (art by Michael Hague) <so beautiful!>


Byrd Baylor: Everybody Needs a Rock (art by Peter Parnall) <amazing gentle lessons about choosing the rock that’s right for you>


Cat Stevens: Teaser and the Firecat  <what can I say? Love it, charming>

Jill Murphy: On the Way Home <great art, great layout>


Lyndell Ludwig: The Shoemaker’s Gift (art by Lynddell Ludwig) <super super layout>

Sal Murdocca: Sir Hamm and the Golden Sundial <great splashes of color>

Alexander Theroux: Master Snickup’s Cloak (illuminated by Brian Froud) <One morning it was the Middle Ages…>

Jon Agee: The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau <spoiler: portrait of a duck! Quack!>

Tomi Ungerer: Allumette (A fable, with due respect to Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm Brothers, and the Honorable Ambrose Bierce) <adorable>

Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince and other stories (art by Lars Bo)

Bat PoetBat Poet2

Randall Jarrell: The Bat-Poet (pics by Maurice Sendak)


Maurice Sendak: The Sign on Rosie’s Door and Chicken Soup with Rice, Where the Wild Things Are, etc.  <Sendak played his art for children to enjoy. If the rest of us enjoy it, too, that is our good fortune.>

William Kotzwinkle & Glenn Murray: Walter the Farting Dog, Trouble at the Yard Sale (art by Audrey Colman)  (Love all Kotzwinkle’s books.  Read his novels long before I found Walter.)


Dr. Seuss: Cat in the Hat, etc., etc. including The Seven Lady Godivas (funny art, not exactly a cb)

George Jonsen: Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls (art by John O’Brien)

James Morier: Hajji Baba of Ispahan (art by Cyrus Roy Baldridge) <1937 hardcover, I like old books>


Margaret Gordon: Wilberforce Goes Shopping


The Children’s Omnibus and other delightful stories <this is a replica of an “antique original” which I bought in New Orleans at Streetcar Store many years ago, Rackham type drawings, very sweet, done with a “cut out” shape to the whole book>

J. R. R. Tolkien:  The Father Christmas Letters <not sure what category this might fall into really but it does have a lot of illustrations>

J. R. R. Tolkien: Farmer Giles of Ham (art by Pauline Baynes) <small medieval artwork pieces>

J. R. R. Tolkien: Smith of Wootton Major (art by Pauline Baynes) <cross between medieval and Edward Gorey>


Peggy Parish: Amelia Bedelia (art by Fritz Siebel) <art is sort of Thurber-ish>

Tony Hillerman (yes, THAT Tony Hillerman): The Boy Who Made Dragonfly, A Zuni Myth (lovely pencil sketch art by Janet Grado)


Frank Jacobs: Alvin Steadfast on Vernacular Island (art by Edward Gorey, that tells you a lot right there, doesn’t it?)

Norma Farber: How Does It Feel to be Old? (art by Trina Schart Hyman)

Carole Spray: The Mare’s Egg (art by Kim La Fave – sorta Rackham-ish)

Flutterbyserendipityleo the lop

Stephen Cosgrove: Snaffles (art by Robin James) A Serendipity Book, one of many, and I bought the whole set for my first niece many years ago.  My personal favorite was Flutterby.

Louise Armstrong: How to Turn WAR into Peace, A Child’s Guide to Conflict Resolution (art by Bill Basso)

Rudyard Kipling (stories and artwork):  Just So Stories <These are amazing stories. If you share them with your children it can change their lives. That was true for me as a child and for a dear friend …check out The Cat Who Walked by Himself>  My copies of The Jungle Book / The Second Jungle Book aren’t illustrated.

Richard Adams’s Favorite Animal Stories (assorted authors) <one picture starts each story – art inside by Beverley Butcher>

Asterix the Gaul

Goscinny and Uderzo: Asterix the Gaul and all the other wonderful Asterix and Obelix books.  Please don’t say the artwork is a bit Disney-ish.  You read Asterix for the puns.  And if you’re multi-lingual you need to read them in several languages because the books contain puns specific to the language at hand.  The written and graphic style is the constant.  I just noticed there are Asterix video games.  Cool.  Are these children’s books?  Well…..


Light Reading/Humor mixed amidst the Children’s Books in my library:

Jazz Fish cover

jazz fish

Howie Green: Jazz Fish Zen (sweet story, great art all by Howie)

Matt Groening: Love is Hell, etc., etc. (artwork is childlike, humor more sophisticated)

Edward Koren: Caution: Small Ensembles (cartoons)


James Thurber:  Fables for Our Time & Famous Poems Illustrated, Further Fables for Our Time, Thurber on Crime (Stories, articles, drawings, and reflections on the evil that men and women do – not many cartoons in this last one)

Matt Freedman & Paul Hoffman: How Many Zen Buddhists Does It Take to Screw In a Light Bulb? (cartoons)

Sidney Harris: What’s So Funny about Science? (cartoons)

G.B. Trudeau:  Read My Lips, Make My Day, Eat Quiche and Die! <and oodles of other Doonesbury books, I love them all…  Still a Few Bugs in the System with intro by Art Buchwald; Joanie with afterward by Nora Ephron; Dare to be Great, Ms. Caucus; etc., etc.>

Berke Breathed: Bloom County ‘Toons for Our Times

Bill Watterson: Calvin and Hobbes

Hyacinthe Phypps (Edward Gorey): The Recently Deflowered Girl (or The Right Thing to Say On Every Dubious Occasion) <how can you not adore Edward Gorey?>

Felicia Lamport: Light Metres (art by Edward Gorey) <her other books are also delightful>  In a lazy effort to avoid scanning this cover, I found which I highly recommend to you as having several other covers of books I’ve mentioned and been too lazy to scan… the blog author is located in Australia and has exquisite taste in book design 🙂

Rich Binell and Anne Patterson: Do More with Dick and Jane (art by Sue Rother) This is a 1986 booklet from Apple Computer that even includes a price list in the back for the Apple Educational Systems exchange program.  Point is, it is done in the original Dick and Jane style for artwork and layout and is charmingly retro.

Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman: Yiddish with Dick and Jane <another parody of the original Dick and Jane, what can I say? I think it’s fun.>


Scott Adams: all the Dilbert books

Jim Erskine and George Moran:  Throw a Tomato and 151 other ways to be mean and nasty <Erskine has done many, many illustrated books, all that I’ve seen are very amusing>

Jules Feiffer: Hold Me! <always enjoyed his cartoons, particularly the lady who interpreted things in modern dance … “A Dance to …..” very funny>

Gary Larson: In Search of the Far Side <all his books are great>

Charles M. Schulz: I may have every little Charlie Brown paperback ever published.  Love the artwork, love the stories, love the characters.


Richard Armour:  It All Started With Columbus (art by Campbell Grant – great little drawings) <all Armour’s books are amusing>

Dr. Seuss’ Lost World Revisited, A book for grown-ups by the celebrated author-illustrator of the most popular children’s books of our time


John Bellairs: The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Curse of the Blue Figurine, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, etc.  (pics by Judith Gwyn Brown who is the closest illustrator to Edward Gorey I know)  These books are great and our kids loved them.

Favorite Books, Writers, Illustrators

Completely unable to discuss favorite books or writers except possibly with respect to Thomas Hardy, Tony Hillerman, Robert Heinlein, Diane Mott Davidson, Tom Robbins, Kinky Friedman, oh, dear I will just go on and on, so we’ll stop this right now.  I CAN discuss favorite books on the subject of “X”, such as children’s books above.

OZ books

Oops.  How could I forget the OZ books?  L. Frank Baum’s OZ series is wonderful.  I had a grandmother who taught me to read early, and when I was in school the only things in the library that held my interest were the OZ books and mythology.  The OZ books had child appropriate artwork, but it was the stories that were great to me then.  And of course I loved WICKED and SON OF A WITCH when they came out thanks to Gregory Maguire.  Then there’s E.B. White and C.S. Lewis  … I’m giving you authors that I liked.  When I think about our boys, I think of Hello, Moon; Lemony Snicket; Harry Potter; the Berenstein Bears and the books the boys went through.  Different generations, different books.

max parrish

Now then, illustrators.  This is another Where Do I Begin?  The one, the only, the greatest illustrator ever – in my humble opinion – Maxfield Parrish.  The greatest bar on the planet is in the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City where the walls are a mural painted by Maxfield Parrish.  I wish I could find a picture.  I may have some old slides somewhere, I’ll have to look.  Meanwhile take my word for it.


I used to read tons of science fiction and go to science fiction conventions (cons, as they are called).  That’s me and a friend (above) at the WorldCon in Brighton, England.  (I am not short, he’s tall.)  The cons almost always had an art show (and a masquerade).  For many of us that was a high point.  And a lot of artwork got auctioned.  (NB: Good place to learn auction bidding skills.)  Often you would see cover art for magazines or books, illustrations from published stories, that sort of thing.  It does not take long to become a minor expert in the subject if you actually read the stuff, attend the cons, and generally like the genre.  A reporter from some newspaper had been sent to cover one of the World Cons and met me wandering around an Art Show.  He made the mistake of asking a question and I think I told him way more than he expected.  He asked how I knew so much about the artwork.  It just never occurred to me that you DID anything to learn this stuff… you simply pick it up as you go along.  If you care about it, you pick up more.  Osmosis.  So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.  So… really cool illustrators include but are certainly not limited to (I refuse to go downstairs to look through several bookcases of sf books):


George Barr – fantasy artist, worked in colored ball point pens, you would have to see it to believe it, amazing.  The picture above is mine.  (Mine mine mine!)


Frank Kelly Freas – Mad Magazine, of course, great cartoon artist and sf magazine illustrator.

Bonnie Dalzell – I have a small, strange sculpture of hers – she did fantasy animals in 2 and 3 dimensions.

Rick Sternbach

Rick Sternbach – before he was associated with Star Trek, Rick lived in the Boston area and was part of NESFA, the New England Science Fiction Association.  Every month we’d all get together and collate an APA zine.  Rick is my favorite artist in the whole world because he taught me something.  He was doing a picture on white paper with black paint, wanted to get a soda, and handed me his paint and brush, saying “Finish those rocks over there for me, ok?” and disappeared.  Whoa.  What rocks?  Where?  What?  Hit me like a ton of bricks that he actually saw the finished painting in his mind and was just, well, painting it.  Much like sculptors say they simply liberate the thing inside the stone.  And I realized I couldn’t see the rocks, even though he’d already started on them.  I couldn’t find the vision he had.  Sorry.  But I learned something that night.  People really see the world differently.

Vincent di Fate

Vincent di Fate – if you read science fiction, you’ve seen Vin’s cover art.  An English artist, Eddie Jones, once explained some of the “shortcuts” the sci-fi artists used to do space ships and planets.  It helps me keep complex pictures in perspective.   Vin is an icon, very recognizable, still working out of Western MA, I think.

M. C. Escher – how can you not like Escher?  Our boys had Escher posters in their rooms!

Jack Gaughan – another iconic sf cover and illustration artist


The Brothers Hildebrandt – illustrated fantasy, Tolkien, Star Wars, Conan, etc.  Their work is beautiful, colorful, and the perfect artwork for children’s books.

Hundertwasser (Friedrich Stowasser) is one of my favorite artists of all time.  He’s Austrian, a dedicated environmentalist, interested in architecture and effective construction.  He uses wonderful bright colors, spirals, cities, rainforests, ships, eyes.  Absolutely love him.  I have a copy of the poster above on the left along with a large, square framed silk scarf he did.  His art is compared to Gustav Klimt, but I don’t care for Klimt.  Hundertwasser’s architecture somewhat resembles Antionio Gaudi in Spain.  If you’re interested, use Google Images and see some fascinating buildings.


Peter Max. How could I forget Peter Max?  Howie Green modeled a lot of his work on early Peter Max.  I love them both.  I’d include a photo of the one Peter Max I own, but it has shiny glass in front of it and I don’t think it would photograph well.  Humph.  I was right, but here’s my very own Peter Max (love his colors):


Max defined psychedelic art in the 1960’s and 70’s.  If you go here

or here

you will see a Continental plane wrapped in a Peter Max painting.

There are, of course, many artists beyond the list above but I have a fondness for these people who’ve given me so much enjoyment over the years.


3 responses to “Children’s Books with Great Artwork

  1. Wow! I had expected a short list. I’m going to add this post to my bookmarks and keep coming back.

    We have a lot of common tastes, although I’m not as dismissive of Disney. I think what he, and the animators, achieved in the 30’s and 40’s is phenomenal and needs to be considered apart from the current Commercial Juggernaut.

    This compendium is making me reconsider my own short list of artists. I realize I’ve become enamored with a few in recent years and stopped thinking about my earlier influences. Need to break open a few boxes and dig out the Windsor McCay and Maxfield Parrish books.

    Great stuff, thanks!

  2. Pingback: Children's Books with Great Artwork « Euonymous Redux | Car |

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