All of the best illustrations in kids’ books stay with us all our lives, from Winnie-the-Pooh hanging on for dear life to his blue balloon while being chased by bees to Max becoming the king of the Wild Things. As soon as I see them again, I can’t help but think of happy times I had as a child being read to. Here are 12 books that are both old and new that young kids love.
AA Milne — Winnie-the-Pooh (illustrated by EH Shepard)
AA Milne’s illustrations for Winnie the Pooh are very different from the Disney version. The bear with no brain looks very different in the original illustrations. EH Shepherd’s pen drawings give Pooh, Piglet, and the rest a more worn-out look when they aren’t colored, or when they are in a muted watercolour. To find these illustrations now is to see a beloved character in a whole new way, much closer to the original books that they came from.
Lewis Carroll — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (illustrated by John Tenniel)
John Tenniel’s illustrations for the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are some of the most well-known in the world. They still have the power to amaze today. Illustrator Ralph Steadman, Czech stop-motion animator Jan vankmajer, and Walt Disney have all done work on Alice. Tenniel’s illustrations are still the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the world behind the Looking Glass. There have been a lot of Alices since Tenniel wrote “Alice in Wonderland.” They all owe him thanks.
Marcus Pfister — The Rainbow Fish (illustrated by the author)
Marcus Pfister has turned what could have been a gimmick into a thing that people remember for almost two decades. The Rainbow Fish, with his shiny foil scales inlaid into the book, can make pre-schoolers look at the book with genuine wonder. But the illustrations are more than just the shiny surface. This picture by Pfister really captures the depths. The watery colors blend into each other, making the fish look like its foil scales are shining from the page. This helps teach kids that it is important to embrace their differences.
Maurice Sendak — Where the Wild Things Are (illustrated by the author)
Even though it’s only 400 words long, Where the Wild Things Are has been turned into two cartoons, an opera, and a great film directed by Spike Jonze. With almost 20 million copies sold, this book must be a big hit. They could have been completely different, but the original idea was for the protagonist to find himself in a land full of wild horses. But when Sendak had a hard time drawing horses, the Wild Things came into being instead! It’s because it’s hard to draw horses that this book has been voted the best picture book in the United States time and time again.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — The Little Prince (illustrated by the author)
In The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the Little Prince’s author, made simple line and watercolour drawings that make the short story even more appealing. The drawings are what make the story so interesting. In children’s literature, the image of the Little Prince alone on his planet in the middle of the suns and stars is one of the most well-known. But all of the images in the book are beautiful, simple, and effective, just like the book itself.
Raymond Briggs — The Snowman (illustrated by the author)
Though a lot of Briggs’ work is worthy of praise, The Snowman is his most important work. A book without words, it tells the story of a boy, his snowman, and the flight they take across the city. Briggs’ detailed pencil crayon drawings tell the story. You can get the same feeling of walking in the air by looking at the original drawings. The movie based on this book is more well-known than the original book.
Tove Jansson — Moominland Midwinter (illustrated by the author)
They all look the same, but Moominland Midwinter is Jansson’s best-known Moomin book, and it’s the one that people love most. When it’s cold outside, black and white illustrations are used to their fullest effect. This creates a sense of melancholy that most kids don’t get, but adults still find them as magical as the Witch of Moominland could have dreamed up.
Six Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm (illustrated by David Hockney)
Hockney is one of Britain’s most famous artists, and when he used etching, which is one of his favorite ways to paint, the results were amazing. Six Grimm stories, from the well-known Rapunzel to the little-known Old Rinkrank, show that all of Hockney’s favorite things are there, but with a Gothic twist. There are a lot of images that show water and movement. There are also natural themes and portraits of witches and other creatures that would look right at home with his well-known portraits of friends or lovers.
Jesse Hodgson — Pongo (illustrated by the author)
Most of the people on this list are well-known, but Pongo is going to be a classic for a long time. Story: An orang-utan is trying to find the sun in a forest full of trees. Pongo’s illustrations perfectly evoke the jungle and its people, with some comparing it to the jungle paintings of Henri-Rousseau, a French artist. In fact, this would be a shame, because Hodgson has a unique way of drawing that you can see in her first book.
Beatrix Potter — The Tale of Peter Rabbit (illustrated by the author)
The Tale of Peter Rabbit is the first of 23 Beatrix Potter stories that feature her unique illustrations. It was written at the beginning of the 20th century and has been read by millions of people since then. Even though any of these could be used to show off her work, the first one is probably the one that people think of the most. Peter Rabbit in his blue jacket eating carrots or escaping from a farmer’s trap are some of the most important images in children’s literature from the 1800s, along with Peter Pan and other characters.
Eric Carle — The Very Hungry Caterpillar (illustrated by the author)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a favorite picture book for many kids and the adults who read it to them, too. Carle’s collage style fits the form perfectly. It makes a character that is easy to recognize and has its own personality, but one that kids who are learning how to make art can easily copy with a few circles or a few sheets of paper. If Matisse or Patrick Heron had been more interested in greedy bugs and generations of kids having a lot of fun, this painting could almost be theirs.
Anthony Browne – Gorilla (illustrated by the author)
Browne’s 40 books have been widely praised. He won the Hans Christian Anderson award, which is the most prestigious in children’s books, and he is so far the only Children’s Laureate to mostly write picture books, which makes him the only one so far. Because Anthony Browne makes books for young children that no one else does, he has become a huge hit. Most people know him for his gorilla, which has been around for 30 years. After three decades, it still makes kids laugh. It tells the story of a little girl’s gorilla doll coming to life and taking her and her mother to the zoo, making kids laugh out loud.