We Recommend: Detailed Illustrations for the Younger Set

It's We Recommend, in which we attempt to match kids up with their perfect book. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And all the good suggestions are in the comments, so be sure to look there.

How I think of myself: all-seeing. Wide-ranging. Flexible.

How I actually am: stuck in the confines of my life and circumstances.

For instance: I feel like I know a lot of children's books. But really? The books I know now seem to be only the ones my (constantly and frighteningly getting older) kids are interested in.

So it is with a bit of culture shock along with fond memories that I get a request like this one. Check it out:

My daughter is 3 1/2. She also loves being read to, and we do this every day, sometimes a couple of times every day. 
She has enjoyed board books in the past (Sandra Boynton, Taro Gomi) but for the last year or so is into what she calls "real" books, which means one made of regular paper (!). She has loved Alexandra Day's Good Dog Carl series tremendously, also Margaret Wise Brown, Oliver Jeffers ("Up and Down" and "Lost and Found") and some of Dr. Seuss (she loves the "drama" in Dr. Seuss I think). A current favourite is "I Live in Brooklyn" by Mari Takabayashi. 
We find that she is increasingly likes books with a 3-4 of lines on each page and incredibly detailed illustrations. 
We are a multilingual family, so picture books work as well because we can work with various different languages at the same time (books by Jan Ormerod–"moonlight," and "sunshine" are huge hits, and continue to be). "Season-related" books, especially those to do with very cold winters are a bit difficult to relate to because while we lived in NYC for ten years we have now moved to India where the weather is pretty much the same through out the year! 

She's 3 1/2! This used to be something commonplace for me, but now I feel like "Awww. She doesn't have homework!"

But let me not get awww-ed away from our task here, which is to find this sunny-sounding person something good to read. I must say I like her style: I, too, am an admirer of Good Dog, Carl. I too dig Mari Takabayashi. I too enjoy the drama of Dr. Seuss.

The trouble is, of course, that I don't know any of the new books, because people in my house don't read them. So I will be relying a lot on you, generous reader, to come up with a few good things in the comments.

I am thinking about the detailed illustrations, because that is one of the best things about reading with the tiny. They can spend so long analyzing what's going on! And it's reminding me of all my old favorites: Babar, and Marshmallow Kisses, and ALL of Richard Scarry with his excellent crazy accidents going on all over. She would do well to get these.

But the one my kids truly loved reading was Sidewalk Trip, also illustrated (if not written) by Mari Takabayashi. Particularly appreciated: it has tiny drawings of cakes and cookies.

But as I said, I am not hanging with the picture-book crowd. Help me out, readers, what should she get?


25 thoughts on “We Recommend: Detailed Illustrations for the Younger Set

  1. My daughter loved “Shrewbettina’s Birthday,” which actually has no text, but does have incredibly detailed illustrations.
    And b/c she’s a junky for award-winning books, we check out the Caldecott and Geisel winners each year. So I’d recommend anything illustrated by Chris Raschka (The Hello Goodbye Window), or also “I want my Hat back.” Satoshi Kitamura is another fun illustrator. And of course, anything by Robert McCloskey (Blueberries for Sal, Time of Wonder, etc.)
    Honestly, I’d probably just take the Caldecott winners list and start going through it systematically. Some are for older kids, but you’ll find some wonderful new favorites there… http://bit.ly/z6PD4m


  2. Okay, my turn to weigh in. We love practically everything by Yolan–Bear Snores On, Bears New Friend. We also love Mo Willems–The Piggie and Elephant books and Knuffle-Bunny. I would say anything by Kevin Henkes–Kittens First Full Moon is one that comes to mind. We are currently enjoying “Going on a Bear Hunt” and the Rainbow Fish series. We enjoyed the story of Babaji which takes place in Tndia. Finally, Press Here by Herve Tullet is a super fun/interactive book.
    Oh, one more, (I can’t stop!) Joseph and His Overcoat by Simm Taback. That should be a good start.


  3. Peter Spier! Wonderful detailed pen & ink and watercolor drawings and lots of them, so that after a first read-through a kid can go through the book by themselves, following the story while looking more closely at the pictures and discovering layers of details. The books range from wordless (Rain) to a little text (Bored – Nothing to do!) to lots of expository (People & other historical history) Good for now – the 5 yr old of the house has loved these for years – and later – the almost-11 yr old is going back to the Constitution book now that they’re covering that tiem in school


  4. Our kids loved Marla Frazee books, illustrated and/or written by. Lots of details, lots of things to observe–Roller Coaster is a particular favorite.
    Also anything by David Wiesner. Many of them have no words at all but such rich stories, they are still favorites.
    I’m also a huge fan of the Ahlberg books, especially Peek-A-Boo!, and Each Peach Pear Plum.
    One of the best gifts our sons were given was a treasury (and that is the right word) of Virginia Lee Burton (Little House, Mike Mulligan, etc.).
    Finally, I second Richard Scarry–the “stories” books rather than the “word” books–interesting pictures, real paper, and enough sentences to fit the bill.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


  5. The Maxi the taxi dog books have lovely illustrations with a cat hidden on every page. And what about the elaborate marginalia of Jan Brett? But, at 3 years old, my daughter was all about Rosemary Wells and Max and Ruby books. Who can resist the Can’t sit up slug?


  6. I recommend Night Becomes Day by Richard McGuire and also second the recommendation for Kevin Henkes. We love Old Bear which has beautiful illustrations (although it is all about the seasons).


  7. Arthur Geisert’s books are very detailed. He’s an etcher and my kids loved his illustrations. The books are silly as well (pigs modeling Roman numerals and such). “Lights Out” might be the best one for the youngest. It’s the story of a Rube Goldberg-esqu contraption a boy makes to turn his light off slowly, so he can fall asleep before the light turns off. Which was lovely in many ways. That one has no words I believe. “Hogwash”, in which many pigs are bathed in a rather funny (and beautifully illustrated) way.
    Molly Bang’s “The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher” is also really really good. No words, beautiful illustrations, also a Caldecott winner (?).


  8. I like Seven Silly Eaters too. For picture books, my kids were suckers for Kevin Henkes, but those don’t really fit the bill because they are very language based – nice pictures too, but it’s very much about the flow of language in those.
    But what would be really good for this family is Ahlberg’s “The Baby Catalog”. My kids looved this book, the pictures are fascinating and there’s very little text. It follows a bunch of families with babies through their busy day. So one page says “Breakfasts” and then there are detailed pictures of what all the families had for breakfasts. And another page is “pets” and it shows all the various rabbits and dogs that the families have. It’s really fun because you get to see the personalities of the different kids, like which one is always getting into trouble, which baby is always crying etc etc. Highly recommended and good for using different languages too.
    If you want something with more of a story, another good one by Ahlberg is “The Bravest Ever Bear”, gosh it’s funny, and the pictures are really well done, lots of action, lots of detail.


  9. books where the illustrations add much to the text:
    Imogene’s Antlers by David Small
    How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (and other books in this series)
    the Sheep books by Nancy Shaw (Sheep in a Jeep, Sheep on a Ship, etc.)
    Cake Girl by David Lucas (be warned–one of the main characters is a witch, if that sort of thing bothers you)
    books illus. by Marla Frazee
    I’d also suggest Tikki Tikki Tembo–great story, beautiful illustrations


  10. Some of the books by Graeme Base are pretty incredible. We just got a board book version of The Water Hole and we spend 10 minutes on each page finding the goofy frogs and the hidden animals and talking about why the pond is getting smaller and smaller.


  11. In the Town All Year Round! My daughter has had this book for a year, we read it often, and I still find new things in the incredibly detailed pictures. It is very text light, but not wordless.


  12. Anything by Shirley Hughes, the wonderful British author and illustrator. Lots of lovely messy houses and children. “Dogger” was my kids’ favourite, but the “Alfie” books are charming too.


  13. Hope you still are interested in more suggestions, though you have so many great ones already!
    Jan Brett does really complex illustrations–detailed frames that work as sort of secret-ish triptych panels that show other views of the story events. The writing isn’t necessarily melodic or anything, but the picutres pay off leisurely study in spades. My kids loved Annie & the Wild Animals and also The Hat. The Mitten is another old standard, but Annie’s the one who stole our heart first.
    In the new-ish vein: Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck is fantastic (kid’s kite gets stuck in tree, he throws a shoe to knock it out, shoe gets stuck, he throws . . . you see where this is going, right?). Also books illustrated by Jon Klassen: Where Is My Hat? and Extra Yarn. Simple illustrations but they add immeasurable dimension to the fable-like stories.
    My kids also loved poring over the Henry books by D.B. Johnson–they are all about a bear, a bear inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau. The first is Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. They are way more fun than I ever thought a kid’s book involving Henry David Thoreau could ever be.
    Also, my absolute favorite kids’ classic is The Day the Babies Crawled Away, by Peggy Rathmann. The Illustrations are all silhouette cutouts on beautifully colored backgrounds, and I thought the kids would find the illustrations boring. The story has a beautiful rhythm & all the adventure of a Seuss story, but not so much of the getting-in-trouble tension of Cat in the Hat. But the kids–at least mine–didn’t find the pictures boring at all. They loved looking for all the different animals who end up traveling with the babies & seeing which baby is doing what.
    Hope these might be helpful additions to all the other wonderful suggestions here.


  14. Yes! to Peggy Rathmann. The Day the Babies Crawled Away is endearing as well as beautiful and Ten Minutes to Bedtime is hilarious and weird. Each of them also has some detail to look out for on every page, a la Hirschfeld’s hidden Ninas. If I recall correctly, there is always one baby who is upside down or one hamster who is in some high up spot or is busy shooting Polaroids, etc. You can also spot characters from Rathmann’s other books. So, in 10 Minutes, for instance, the gorilla from her fun Goodnight, Gorilla reappears as a plush toy while figurines of Officer Buckle & Gloria (heroes of their own book) hang out atop a desktop computer.
    For illustrations that you can just fall into and offer a lot to chew on just on their own, we liked Maira Kalman’s Max books.


  15. Oh wow, I haven’t thought about The Day the Babies Crawled Away in a while. That’s a really good one. “Through the cave and the trees on their brave little knees…” I love that line, and the pictures are gorgeous.


  16. I second (third) Ten Minutes to Bedtime and in general, Peggy Rathman. My 4.5 yo finds something new in those pictures every time.`


  17. I have 3 1/2 year old twins and we go through piles of library books every few weeks as well as our collection of book (3 books at bedtime and lots during the day). Apart from the ones mentioned already, they love Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler books like The Snail and the Whale and The Gruffalo, Millie’s Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura, anything by Bob Graham (currently Rose meets Mr Wintergarten).
    I agree that Graeme Base books are great for spotting details. Another fun one is Look! A Book by Bob Staake.


  18. No one has mentioned Alison Lester who does beautiful detailed illustrations – ‘Imagine’ is especially lovely with lots of things to look at. Anything illustrated by Julie Vivas, including ‘Possum Magic’, ‘I went walking’ is a bit young but even my older kids still love the illustrations and the rhythm. Shirley Hughes does lovely illustrations of life really is – messy, with washing in piles and un-made beds. I love her stuff. ‘I want my hat back’ cracks me up every time I read it. A must!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.