Monday I came across an article on The 20 Most Beautiful Children’s Books of All Time, which one of my friends had posted on FB. I finally got a chance to look at it on Tuesday and for the most part I agree with their choices. Some of the best include The Arrival written & illustrated by Shaun Tan, Flotsam written & illustrated by David Wiesner, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon and Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Tale from China written & illustrated by Ed Young. I’m not the only one to think so, but the Caldecott committee liked what they’ve seen to, as three out of the four books have been awarded the Caldecott Medal. These five illustrators are some of the best out there. I happen to love David Wiesner‘s wordless picture books: Flotsam, Sector 7, and Tuesday as they are some of the most imaginative picture books out these days. Leo & Diane Dillon have been an illustrating couple since the 1960s (though Leo started in 1957), and are the only couple to win the Caldecott Medal two years in a row for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (which are both excellent books). I just found out today that they did the cover art illustrations for the Garth Nix Abhorsen series, i.e. Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. Sadly Leo Dillon passed away in May of this year. Shaun Tan is an Australian illustrator who creates picture books as well as traditional paintings. While his work tends to be for older children and young adults, I love his crazy Bosch-like drawings, like the ones in The Arrival or Tales from Outer Suburbia. Ed Young has won the Caldecott Award once and the Honor twice for his illustration work, although I think he should’ve won for Wabi Sabi as well. For more information on this artist, check out his website.
In addition to the five listed above, there are so many great illustrated Children’s books out there. Some of my favorite older illustrators (1900s to 1980s) include Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak (more about him in this post), Kate Greenaway (more about her further on in the post), Randolph Caldecott, Beatrix Potter, Arnold Lobel of Frog and Toad are Friends fame, and Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey (my favorite being How the Sun Was Brought Back to the Sky, which I still own, pictured below).
How the Sun Was Brought Back to the Sky, 1975
I also enjoy Mercer Mayer (especially his Monster books and grew up with his Little Critter series that I’m sharing with my son) and Charles Mikolaycak. The last artist only did work from the 1970s-90s, as he died in 1993. The first book I saw of his was his illustrated version of the famous poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. Below are examples of his work.
Bess, The Landlord’s Daughter from The Highwayman, 1983
I bought the following book after I moved to Arizona, as I thought the artwork was beautiful. Definitely not a kid’s book, but it is gorgeous.
Some of my newer favorites are Tony DiTerlizzi, Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky, Sylvia Long, Lane Smith, Brian Selznick, Tom Murphy and Mo Willems. Tony DiTerlizzi’s work is just phenomenal and it’s an added bonus that his writing is great as well. I got into his work by reading the beginning of The Spiderwick Chronicles, then moved to Kenny and the Dragon, and now my favorite books of his are his Wondla series (2 books out so far and can’t wait for the third!). Jerry Pinkney has been illustrating books since the 1960s but I only recently discovered his work while doing my Caldecott Challenge. Now I am just in love with his work. He has won tons of awards, including two Caldecott honors and one Caldecott Award. My favorite book at the moment is Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star which he wrote last year, pictured below.
Most people know who Lane Smith and Mo Willems are. Lane Smith classically teamed up with one of my favorite children’s writers and all-around crazy nice guy Jon Scieszka (sounds like “Fresca), for such works as The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and Science Verse. But he also produces his own author/illustrator books such as It’s A Book and Grandpa Green (which won a Caldecott Honor). He was also the Conceptual Designer for the Disney film James and the Giant Peach. For more info on Lane Smith, check out his website. Mo Willems has become incredibly popular with his Don’t Let the Pigeon… series and my personal favorite, the easy reader series Elephant and Piggie. I also love his book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. Willems drawings are simple but hilarious and so expressive, it’s no wonder kids love them. Brian Selznick is also pretty well known thanks to the fact that his Caldecott Award winning book The Invention of Hugo Cabret has recently been turned into a movie. Hugo and Selznick’s newest book Wonder Struck are my favorites and I’ve even managed to get my mother to read both of them, which she really enjoyed.
Now for the somewhat lesser known artists from my newer illustrators list, or more likely you have seen their work but had no idea it was from them. Paul O. Zelinsky has been illustrating children’s books since 1978, but I think really hit it big when he stared illustrated Beverly Cleary’s books. He did the artwork for Strider, Ralph S. Mouse, and Dear Mr. Henshaw. I am fascinated by these because I read them as kids, well two of the three at least, and never thought about the artwork until I got to graduate school and began studying it. I did have a chance to meet him in person a few years ago and get my copy of Rapunzel autographed, though I did act like a total nerd when I found out that he also studied art history in college. I find that book to be particularly amazing because it was done completely in Northern Renaissance style, which happens to be one of my favorite artistic periods, but also I would think, very hard to copy. I found an interesting blog post on this page, where I found the Rapunzel picture (personally I’ve always loved fairy tales, and my aunt used to read my cousin and me the real Grimm versions, even if they were scary – we loved them).
Sylvia Long is the illustrator of the Dianna Hutts Aston’s gorgeous nonfiction picture books. These books include A Seed is Sleepy, An Egg is Quiet, and A Butterfly is Patient. I can’t wait for the day when my son is old enough to read these books. Tom Murphy has illustrated four books with author Sean Bryan, including The Boy and His Bunny, The Girl and Her Gator and The Bear and His Boy. The illustrations and the text are so cute and funny.
An Egg is Quiet, 2006
If you ever want to check out some museums that feature children’s book illustrations, check out the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Abilene, Texas or a little bit better known is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. The NCCIL has an exhibition on The Lorax on at the moment, and the Carle Museum has one on the art of Ezra Jack Keats and his book The Snowy Day, one on Lucy Cousins’ heroine Maisy, and The Art of Eric Carle and the Birth of a Museum (as the museum has been open 10 years in 2012). I was lucky enough to see a great collection of material including original copies of illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats, H.A. and Margaret Rey (creators of Curious George), Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott at the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi when I was down visiting family. I grew up with Kate Greenaway books when I was a kid, so I knew who she was even before I learned about the British Illustrator’s Award named after her. For any adult seriously interested in illustration and/or children’s literature, I highly recommend checking it out after making an appointment with the curator. I would love to go to the Eric Carle Museum as they always have cool workshops going on plus I’m sure their collection is awesome (that’s the museum nerd in me coming out, lol). The Carle Museum has a number of book lists with tons of great picture books to recommend for the moms, dads and other caregivers out there.