Children book is always be one of our favorite things. I have been collecting children books long before I got married, and they became the things that I treasure. A few years ago, it wasn’t easy to find a store that curated good children books. So, I am happy now that it’s much easier to find good online store that curated children/illustrated books, one of them is Alf and Lou found by Chita.
When I saw Alf and Lou Instagram account and read each review of their books, I instantly knew the girl behind this must be a genuine lover of illustrated books. So, we asked her to share seven children books adults would love to read. As Chita said, illustrated books help her to see the connection between art and literature, that a story for children might touch the heart of an adult, and that you are never too old for a picture book.
The Absolutely Essential Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight
Meet Eloise, she is six and she lives in the top floor at the Plaza hotel New York with her nanny, her pug Weenie and her turtle, Skipperdee. Kay Thompson, a writer, composer, actress and singer wrote Eloise in 1955 and Hilary Knight drew her.
Eloise is different with any other books about a six-year-old girl I have known. For instance, you won’t see Eloise’s mother in it ( ‘my mother is 30 and she has a charge account at Bergdorf’. She goes to Paris and Europe and sends for me when it’s warm) and she has an unusual way to have dinner ( ‘Every night I have to call Room Service to send up that menu so we can order our dinner for Lord’s sake’) and the only well known picture book that has a child sitting next to her nanny who is smoking and drinking Pilsener Beer while watching TV. If you think children’s picture book is just for children, give Eloise a try. She will definitely steal your heart.
Fun facts: Eloise painting is hung in the lobby of the Plaza and the hotel was registered as literary landmark as ‘The Home of Eloise’ in 1998.
Cinderella illustrated by Mary Blair, retold by Cynthia Rylant
Everyone here must know this classic fairy tale, but this is the first Cinderella that touched my heart with its magic. Mary Blair was the concept designer for the Walt Disney’s original movie. Here her art is put together as a picture book in which Rylant focused more on a larger theme, love itself. ( ‘This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love. ).
When Fairy Godmother put on her spell, the lines say ‘Cinderella did not have to tell Fairy Godmother what she longed for. She did not have to ask anything at all. Those things which meant for her found her’.
The scene when Cinderella was dancing with the Prince is my favourite, ‘In silence, love found them’.
I think the words aren’t intended for children, but more to adults who grew up with this classic. It wasn’t focused on the ‘bibbidi bobbidi boo’, the talking mice, or the glass slippers. It focused more on love, as if what Cinderella experienced is not a fairy tale, but a story that might happen to us, too. I praise Rylant for her poetic words, she successfully brought Cinderella to a real modern world with her lines.
Fun facts: Mary Blair was also the concept designer behind Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and she has been credited with introducing modernist art styles to Walt Disney and his studio.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr.Morris Lessmore by William Joyce
Morris loved books and stories. Reading and writing were all he did until one day, the wind blew and blew until everything he knew was scattered, his books, his home, his town – even the words of his books.That day, Morris’s life ended and he didn’t know how he would get his old life back. So, he carried a book he was writing and he walked, and walked.
Just like Morris, sometimes we face those moments when we just don’t know what to do but to keep on going. We lost our inspirations and probably happiness. And like Morris, I find that books are my therapy. ‘Morris tried to keep the books in some sort of order, but they always mixed themselves up. The tragedies needed cheering up and would visit with the comedies. The encyclopaedias, weary of facts, would relax with the comic books and fictions. All in all it was an agreeable jumble.’
William Joyce was writing this book when hurricane Katrina devastated his home state. When he visited the shelters and reading to the children, he understood the curative power of stories. Everyone here must have experienced it too, that books are the world we choose to get lost in.
Fun fact: The book is an adaptation from a short animated movie released in 2011 by the same title. The movie won Best Animated Short Film at the 84th Academy Award.
Big Wolf and Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
This story tells about insecurity, of how sometimes we feel threatened by a newcomer. This is a good choice to prepare a child that a new sister or brother is coming. Big Wolf lived alone under his tree, at the top of the hill. It had always been that way. Then one day, Little Wolf arrived. Here, the conflict in Big Wolf’s heart started. He didn’t tell Little Wolf to go away, instead he let Little Wolf stayed. ‘..they watched each other out of the corners of their eyes. Their looks were curious – not mean or suspicious at all.’
Naturally, Big Wolf was afraid that Little Wolf would best him. Stronger, faster, quicker than he, so although he let Little Wolf stayed, he didn’t give all his best to him. He shared a small portion of his breakfast, gave just a tip of his blanket at night and didn’t help Little Wolf climbed his tree. Until one day, Little Wolf left him.
This is where I think siblings will never have to experience, but it makes more sense to adults. Growing up with two sisters I learned to love them when they were around – like it or not. I never actually missed them until we are all adults and live apart. Here, Big Wolf’s feeling of lost and loneliness can only be felt by a person who actually has lost someone and missed them terribly. Of course, it ended just fine for the two wolves.
And then in the distance a tiny dot appeared. But the dot was so small that only someone who had waited as long as Big Wolf had waited could think that the dot was someone approaching from far, far away.
“Without you,” said Big Wolf in a very small voice, “I was lonely.”
Fun fact: this book is originally published in France, it has won numerous awards and is adapted by the French National Curriculum.
The Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
A picture book without words is a challenge for every storyteller. There are no words to guide you, no dialogs to read, you entirely depend on the illustrations. But originally, illustration was created to give an enlightenment, providing a visual representation of something described in a text. So, without the text there is no boundary of where a story can go and you can have a loose interpretation. While it is fun for some, it can be haunting for others and may lead the book to be assumed boring by children. Remembering that, it was quite extraordinary for a wordless picture book to be able to grasp its readers’ mind and left so little room for loose interpretation.
A fox was about to give birth and looking for a shelter. She entered a small village and was chased away by the villagers. Later, she found an abandoned greenhouse. From his bedroom window, a boy saw the fox. Instead of telling the adults, he went to the greenhouse and left a basket of food for her and her pups. In the morning when the boy woke up, he found the surprise the foxes have left him as a thank-you.
The setting was a snowy winter day and it was so perfectly captured by the combination of drawing, paper, lighting and photography that for a moment I forgot this book didn’t have any words in it. Enchanting must be a perfect adjective to describe this gem by Princesse Camcam. It is also painfully true how sometimes adults fail to show kindness to something wild when a child, just because he knows what’s right and wrong, does what right without a second thought.
Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Anthony Browne
You might know Anthony Browne as the illustrator who created Willy the chimp. In fact, he is well-known for his gorillas and monkeys illustrations. So, when I had my hands on this adaptation of the famous German fairy tale, I was a bit shocked by how grim the illustrations were.
Hansel and Gretel haunted me when I was small. Brother and sister left in the forest by their father and stepmother to die, and then a witch was trying to eat them was a difficult thing to comprehend by a child. In the original version, they were left by their own father and mother. It is said that the story may have originated in the medieval period of the Great Famine which caused parents to abandon their children, or even resort to cannibalism.
This fairy tale is one of the darkest tales I’ve known, and the only thing children find it exciting is the candy house. Even that, in Browne’s version wasn’t pictured pretty. The whole ambience the book gave was bleak and sinister. Some of illustrations were downright creepy, but I think Browne caught the simplicity of hopelessness really well. This interpretation actually one of those who made me see picture book in a new perspective, that children’s books aren’t necessary cute and pretty to be enjoyed.
The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore
This books is actually more graphic novel than picture book, but I just had to put it in the list. Secret Garden (the non-illustrated translated version) was one of the books that I read once I know how to enjoy a novel and actually was patient enough to finish it. As a ten year old lived in Indonesia, the world of Mary Lennox was like Narnia to me.
What was India like? What was England like? How did it feel to live in a such big house like Misselthwaite Manor? How lonely and angry Mary was? And of course, how beautiful the garden was? The scenes of how the garden could be stayed in my head for years and when I saw Inga Moore’s illustration for this classic, it was like my imagination of my Secret Garden came to live.
The comparison between the tended garden (topiary, pruned and clipped) with the secret garden that just ran wild, riot, untouched by gardeners hands is so clear in her illustrations. The garden was a wild, beautiful creature that breathed life, so powerful it healed the whole residents of the manor. It is pictured just perfect in this book.
Fun Fact: the original book had only nine illustrations, but Moore has provided more than 100.
Yuchita Erayanie of Alf and Lou
I graduated from Art and Design school and work as an English teacher. Books and illustrations have always been my passion. When I started teaching English as a second language, I realized that reading plays an important role in a language acquisition.
In my class, I always try my best to promote extensive reading to my students, especially young learners. When doing that I discovered that for a child to get interested in reading, illustrations are what get their attention first. After all, before words there were pictures.
In 2013, I started Alf and Lou Bookstore, hoping it to be an outlet for parents, illustrators, readers to find great illustrated books that tell wonderful stories. Hopefully, these stories will be someone’s windows to a new world they have yet to discover.