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Illustrated Children's Books ft. a Kitten

Sunday, 16 October 2016


My fourth and final year of university has just begun (three weeks in now), and as such, I have been busy reading a lot of classic children's literature, which is part of the reason for this blogpost. The main part being that ever since the publication of the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone last year, I've been slowly falling in love with illustrated children's books. Sadly, I don't have an unlimited book fund, so my collection is still very small, but I thought I would show you what I have so far.  

Also, I'm squeezing in a bit of a life update here - a little one was welcomed into our family last week! She's a rescue and her name is Indigo, or "Indie", as we all call her. This is her inaugural blog post, but I'm sure it won't be the last time I try to force her to participate in a book photoshoot. 


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J. K. Rowling
Illustrated by Jim Kay

Like every Potter fan out there, last Christmas I received the first of the official illustrated editions - The Philosopher's Stone, as imagined by Jim Kay. I'm still in awe of just how stunning his artwork is in this book. Even all these months later, I find myself getting lost in it so easily just by flipping through the pages.

I fully intend on completing the collection. Chamber of Secrets has actually just been released this week, so I will definitely be picking that up sometime soon. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do for the later books, even just in terms of size. I have no idea how they're going to fit everything in. I really hope they don't release abridged editions - I think us diehard Potter fans would much rather have huge and impractical tomes than smaller, watered-down versions. 


There's something about Jim Kay's illustrations that make them somehow both specific and universal at the same time. He is a perfect fit for the Potter series. Some of my favourite images are the larger character portraits: Ron, McGonagall, Malfoy, and, of course, Harry himself. The soft, desaturated, almost greyscale, portrait of Harry (below) is probably my favourite image from the entire book. 

You have your mother's eyes, Harry.

It hasn't been long since my last Potter re-read, and I'm sure it won't be long until my next. I can't wait until the day when I can read them all in this illustrated format (that is, of course, if all goes according to plan). Like many young Potter fans out there, I also can't wait to pass these on to my children one day - if I have any. I know that's thinking ahead in the extreme, but there's something so special about these illustrated editions. I really, truly cherish this book in a way that is probably not healthy. In fact, on second thought, I probably cherish it too much to let any actual children near it. 

On an unrelated note, the wonderful Witch Please podcast recently released an episode in which they discussed the particulars of book design (find it here). It was a really interesting look at the various covers and editions of the Potter books, and they talk about the illustrated edition quite a bit, too. 


As you can see, Indie's favourite part was when Harry meets Ron onboard the Hogwarts Express:


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Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie
Illustrated by Minalima

I re-read Peter Pan this summer as sort of background reading for my courses on Children's Literature - because, sadly, Peter doesn't feature in either of them. I knew immediately that the one I wanted was the inimitable MinaLima edition. MinaLima is a company founded by artists who worked on the Harry Potter film sets designing the graphic props (think Ministry of Magic paraphernalia), and I think the style they formed during their time there can really be seen in the illustrations of this book.  



MinaLima's style is radically different to, say, Jim Kay's Potter illustrations. There are no character portraits, for example. The focus here is more on the smaller details. This book features a lot of pop-out elements of things like maps and Tinkerbell's wings. The pages themselves are littered with little props - objects briefly mentioned in the text are given space and weight by the illustrators.  

MinaLima, unfortunately, only have one other book published so far: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which looks just as gorgeous as this one is. I would love to see them publish more children's books. I'm not sure which book I'd like to see them take on next. Although I love the Quentin Blake illustrations as much as anyone, I would love to see a new take on Roald Dahl. I think MinaLima would have a lot of fun with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example.





I really enjoyed reading Peter Pan this summer. It's such an iconic story. It holds up, even over a hundred years since it was first published. Although I did just recently finish reading Treasure Island, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, so it's entirely possible that I just have a bias towards pirates. 

What surprised me most about it was just how prominent Wendy is. I suppose that's why some forms, like the play, were called Peter and Wendy. There's probably a lot of fascinating critical reading out there on this book's strange relationship with women and with mothers that I would love to read someday. 

I really, really like the 2003 film adaptation, which I believe is available on Netflix, by the way. 


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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Yayoi Kusama

Alice is a strange book. The story is so iconic, and its strangeness is appealing, but I just don't get it. There are a lot of people out there who love Lewis Carroll, and who adore Alice - but I'm simply not one of them. I've been midway through the book for months now and I just can't find the motivation to keep going. However, I love this particular edition - even if it is just for looking at. It is gorgeous. 


There are so, so many editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland out there. It took me a long time to decide on one. Initially, I wanted something traditional with the original illustrations by John Tenniel, but I couldn't find one that really felt worth it. This Kusama edition initially felt too modern, too out-there, but the more I looked at it, the more Alice it felt. I'm still so glad I went with it. 

Yayoi Kusama is an artist of so many different kinds of media and environments. I think most people know her through her various installations in modern art museums. What I instantly recognised were her mirrored light fixtures - and then, of course, there are the dots. Dots are a recurring theme throughout Kusama's work and throughout this book.



I will eventually have to finish reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, because it's a course text next semester. I'm not particularly looking forward to it, although I am looking forward to the class discussion on the text. It does often seem like a book that people tend to over-analyse - or, maybe I just don't understand it at all. Alice die-hards, don't hate me.

Regardless, I will always love this edition. What I love most about it is the way the size of the text changes throughout. Kusama is very playful with the font sizes. Sometimes one small sentence will be stretched across two pages to match Alice's growing stature. Other times, it shrinks, or even swirls down the page. If nothing else, this book is truly one of a kind. 



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A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Illustrated by Jim Kay


Another Jim Kay illustrated book, but in a drastically different tone and environment here. Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls (based on a story by Siobhan Dowd) is, technically, a children's book, but a dark one - as evidenced by Kay's artwork. His style for this book is monochromatic, scratchy, and sometimes the drawings almost look like negative images. I particularly love how he draws the titular monster. 



This book deals with some difficult things: illness, pain, death, and other fun topics to discuss with your child. It is a very moving story, but it isn't a tissues on the beach kind of read. I read it over the course of one afternoon, on the couch - and I think that was perfect.



The film adaptation is due to come out very soon. I am extremely excited to see it, especially because it is directed by J. A. Bayona, who previously directed the lovely and creepy El orfanato among many others. It won't be an easy one to adapt, but I think they found a wonderful director (not to mention the stellar cast) to trust the story with. 

There are editions of A Monster Calls out there with no illustrations whatsoever, which, to me, sounds crazy. I think that this book is truly a collaborative work between writer and illustrator. To present the text without even the core illustrations is a mistake, in my opinion. Especially considering the fact that there are extremely accessible illustrated editions out there. The one I own is quite small and is a paperback - it's not as if the only option is a Potter-esque tome. 

So, if you're picking this one up, be sure to go with the illustrated edition. It's worth it. 


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