Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Picture Books To Blow You Away

My background is in books.  

And Children.

Nothing has changed really, I still love both but my particular area of interest in books is the amazing world of picture books.  The quality of story and illustration available once you scratch the surface quite literally blows me away.

When I wrote this post a few weeks ago about buying toys for children, I mentioned the concept of educating children in beauty.  It is something I believe very strongly.  Children are made of body and soul.  We feed the body as best we can.  Make our own baby purées with locally sourced organic ingredients (Oh Yea :-)), spend hours on end poring over ingredient lists on packages in supermarkets, check out suppliers and sell-by dates and restrict such evils as sugar, salt and MSG.   And rightly so.  Our child's nutrition and bodily needs are important and as parents or grandparents, or carers we naturally want to do our best.  

But what about the soul? I'm sure the souls of children in our culture feel like the Who's, shouting 'We're HERE!! We're HERE!!' But nobody can hear them, nobody really believes they're there.  But believing, or not believing something doesn't make it so.  They are here, those souls of our children, and they need to be fed and nourished even more than those precious bodies.  

People might not agree with me here but I detect a crassness that has slipped gradually into children's culture this last two decades.  Children's TV show characters and presenters seem to shout...all the time...all at the same time.  Even the traditionally beautiful children's movies and animation are often filled with double-entendres designed to enhance the stature of block-buster stars rather than capture the enchantment of childhood. (I'm speaking generally, there are always exceptions to be found.)  The same with children's books.  I love looking back at the history of children's illustration and the work of amazing artists like Mabel Lucie Attwell and Arthur Rackham and how they captured beauty and gentleness and the magical world of the childhood psyche. 
Compare that to what sits on today's bookshop shelves...mass produced, computer generated, sometimes bordering on ugly and mostly quite frankly...boring.  I feel so sad that this is all that's being fed to children's minds.  What goes in is what comes out.  If potty humour, early sexualisation (a blog post for another day) and bland and visually uninspiring artwork is what goes into a child's mind...don't expect to churn out great thinkers and philosophers and lovers of truth and beauty at the other end.  That's what I think anyway...and I think I might be right.

But help is at hand...

...Here I am!!

I have picked the most beautiful children's picture books I have come across, both from my work with books, including being a buyer with a substantial budget to spend as I saw fit.  But even more importantly in my years as a mother trying to feed my children's souls with a beauty which reflects the mind of God.

I think you'll love what I am going to show you.  I was going to divide my selection between two posts as there's a lot but I've decided against that as Christmas is in just two weeks and I really want children to receive some of these books.  In fact, I mentioned that a lot of people in the book industry become collectors of children's picture books...a beautiful picture book can sometimes hit the nail on the head for an adult too.


I can't decide how to order my selection so I think I'll just arrange them randomly.
The number below the title of each book is the ISBN to use to search for it.


In No Particular Order..

...May I Present

A Feast Of Truly Beautiful Books.

All the Places to Love

I still haven't managed to read this book aloud to the end for any of my children. I gave my sister a gift of it and she has the same problem.  Nuff said.


The Crown on Your Head

This book is  quite simply a masterpiece. I particularly recommend it as a gift for a family with a child with special needs, health problems or difficulties of any kind.  It triggers healing tears.

Just watch this trailer:

And check out her other gorgeous books, like this one..


Jan Brett Books

( 0399234772)

A lot of Jan Brett's books have a Scandinavian tone and the artwork is beautifully detailed.

Check out her website here for some really different printable colouring pages and activities.


Badger's Parting Gifts

This is the nicest children's book I've come across that deals with the topic of death, particularly that of an elderly person or that of a person who has had a long illness.  I remember reading it after my own mother died and the piece where the author describes the moment of death is just so perfect.  I like that it acknowledges an afterlife too as a lot of children's books dealing with death addresses only the child's loss with no mention of heaven or life after death.  Watch a reading of the book in Japanese here.


The Lonely Doll

I'll be honest about these books.  When I got these for my girls on the basis of the beautiful photographic illustrations, I became quite haunted by them.  There's a ghost-like mysterious element in them which I'm not sure whether Dare Wright intended.  In fact, Dare Wright herself has an ethereal mysterious beauty.  The stories seem to represent something else...but what? In fact while looking for a picture of one of the books I came across this article from the New York Times which by total coincidence exactly describes my feelings about these books.  Our girls love The Lonely Doll...Louise has decided she's Edith, which doesn't surprise me as she's usually up to the same sort of unintentional mischief as her. I will never throw them out.

I'd definitely recommend these for an adult collector too.



This book came out years and years before the animated TV series.  I think the book is better.


Bubbles Before Bed

One Word:



Goodnight Moon
My favourite read-aloud toddler book.

And if you look carefully you'll see that the pictures on the wall link up with another of Margaret Wise Brown's books:

The Runaway Bunny


The Big Big Sea


'I'll always remember just Mama and me and the night that we walked by the big, big sea'



Where The Sunrise Begins 

It's like falling asleep and having a wonderful dream.


No One But You
( 076363848X)

In fact all of Douglas Wood's books are stunning.  
I think Santa might bring a few more this year.


All The World


Step Gently Out
( 0763656011)

These pictures just speak for themselves..


Angel In The Waters

This is probably the most beautiful child's book I have ever seen depicting life before birth.
It will teach your child the preciousness of unborn life in a gentle and effortless way.

You can read the entire book online at Angel In The Waters website.

It's a perfect girt for a pregnant mother.


And Finally...

...Just for me, because I love his books.

(For adult collectors or slightly older children, 
they might be a bit scary for small children 
because they are pretty surreal and dream-like.)
(except Polar Express, that's for small children too.)

Anything By Chris Van Allsburg

He is an amazing illustrator.


Let me know what you think of my selection...have you any favourites you'd like to add?


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  2. Thank you, Jennifer, for this wonderful post. Geoff and I have enjoyed reading quite a few of these books with our girls, and Badger's Parting Gift has been a very healing book, especially when my beloved Daddy died six years ago. We still give our girls picture books every Christmas, even though one is an adult and the other two are teenagers. Their souls still need nourishing! Perhaps even more so, when in the teenage and young adult years they are can feel uncertain and insecure as they begin to venture out into the world. Thank you for some lovely ideas for us to share with our older "little ones".
    God Bless and Happy Christmas to you, John and all the family.
    With love from Aine and all the Whites

  3. Great list! I love Barbara Cooney as well...beautiful illustrations. Never been a big fan of Margaret Wise Brown though. Jan Brett is a hugely popular author in our house, especially her Christmas books.

  4. Love this post! I didn't get to read many books when I was little and so I read them now! I am not familiar with any of these but I will look for them in the library.


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