If you follow my Instagram, you already know about my 12 Days of Children’s Books! I had so much fun sharing these every day, I thought I’d make a nice list of my picks for you here. In fact, I might take this further and do a Shelfie Sunday—a weekly post in which I share a book from my shelves (fiction, art books, picture books). Happy reading, friends!
Book 1: Martin Pebble, by Jean-Jacques Sempé
I chose this one because I love the way he uses the white space of the paper and I think this skill is what makes a good book illustrator, and the large wide format is a perfect choice for him to play with. His simple but expressive use of line are like musical notes that propel you forward until you reach a satisfying end. And his tiny characters are drawn with a flourish, reminding me of Qin Leng. It also smells fantastic. Published by Phaidon.
Book 2: Northwest Passage, by Matt James
Head blown off when I first opened this book. I was at Furby House Books in Port Hope and I will never forget that moment. Matt James‘ work is explosive. It’s pure creativity unleashed and as a control freak painter, I am so jealous I can’t stand it. I saw a video by the Globe and Mail on him working and then I truly got it. In fact, before I start a project I say to myself, “Be like Matt James, no fear, no #%*s!” And then I met his niece at a craft fair which was totally weird and wonderful. She started off the conversation by saying my work reminded her of his, which btw couldn’t be farther from the truth—but I was flattered.
This book is chock FULL of writing and painting. The layout and design is perfection. Published by Groundwood Books.
Book 3: Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers
I was obsessed with this book when it came out. It is smeared with finger-prints and paint because I studied it a lot to teach myself how to use watercolour and for its colour palette. Also the enormous amount of sentiment in the simple gestures of his characters. Jeffers’ work has changed quite a bit and not so much about watercolour anymore, or those dreamy Hopper-esque colours, so his first few books are like treasures to me. Published by Harper Collins.
Book 4: Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay
We all know Marie-Louise Gay for her Stella and Sam books, but this one I think, far surpasses those. The Stella books are pretty simple in terms of story, but this one goes off on a creative tangent or two that can have you browsing this book for a long time, and no wonder – it’s about the creative process. The incorporation of collage, the story within a story arc, and her exuberant characters, makes this such a joyful and optimistic celebration of the creative process for all ages. Published by Groundwood Books.
Book 5: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Quentin Blake
This writer and this illustrator began my obsession with reading because both have an incredible knack for story, character, place and description. I read all of Dickens when I was a kid – voraciously, and through the terrible and wonderful books of Roald Dahl, I discovered Quentin Blake who I look to ALWAYS before illustrating anything. But also, my sister used to read A Christmas Carol to me every Christmas, and her enthusiasm for books has probably influenced me throughout my life. Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Book 6: Home, by Carson Ellis
If even just for the cover alone. Props to Candlewick Press for the gold foil title. Totally envious of the book design—the large format, the matte paper. I’m always watching for good layout design as this is where I struggle the most, and this one has it. But the paintings also work separately—if you were the type to rip out pages of a book, these would frame quite nicely. Take note of the smell too, if you have it. It’s that particular ink that drives me bonkers (in a good way). If you’re looking for cozy on a snowy, grey day, this is it.
Book 7: Journey, Part 1 of the Trilogy, by Aaron Becker
I think this one far surpasses the next two in the trilogy. Perhaps a matter of taste, but I think this one is handled with a much more sensitive brush, and also much more detail. This wordless book is an excellent representation of what watercolour can do, especially in terms of light and shadow and contrasts in washes and intricate detail. The whole book glows. I would love to see the original work in person. Also, he writes really honest and wonderful blog posts. Visit his site! I would have chosen matte paper here which I think is more suitable for watercolour. Another Candlewick Press book!
Book 8: The Night Gardener, by Terry and Eric Fan
You know when you look at an illustration and you can just see all THE LOVE that went into it? This book. The Fan brothers. It has a Sendak-ian aura—the magic and the sensitivity in every drawing. Their work is a blend of ink or graphite and digital which creates an almost surreal effect. If their work was a novel, it would be magic surrealism. The printing quality and paper is luxe thanks to Simon and Schuster. Check out more of their work in the form of prints, on Society 6.
Book 9: Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, Selected by Lisbeth Zwerger
Obviously watercolour is my favourite medium. And boy does Lisbeth Zwerger know how. Her washes and fine lines are immensely satisfying to look at. Rarely do you find an illustrator who is so technically adept at her medium AND such a natural at character drawing. The gestures and poses of her characters are so real and heart-warming and relatable. This is published by Penguin Young Readers.
Book 10: Sidewalk Flowers, by Jon Arno Lawson, Illustrated by Sydney Smith
There is something about this book that really holds my attention every time I look through it. Enough that I look at it as a reference a lot. It could be the familiarity with it—he has captured Toronto so incredibly well. Not just visually, but the essence of it too. The second last page of the girl looking up at the birds is what really holds my attention. That line and gesture and the simple, two blots of colour on her face giving it form, are really lyrical and sweet and make me think of Chinese brush painting. My wish is that this character was drawn with this kind of sensitivity all the way through. The end papers are a nice touch and I love the cover design. Published by Groundwood Books. Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustrated Book 2015, and a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year.
Book 11: The Other Dog, by Madeleine L’Engle, Illustrated by Christine Davenier
I found this years ago at Balfour Books on College in Toronto and since then have really enjoyed it as a good reference for gestural drawing, using blues for shadows, and just to loosen up for goodness sake! Also, who isn’t a fan of Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time etc.) There is a lovely author’s note at the back in which she includes her own drawings of her family and her poodle Touché, who inspired the book. And whoa. You NEED to heck out Christine Davenier’s website. Published by SeaStar, a division of North-South Books.
Book 12: Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards
Ok, you’re really going to like this one! These are watercolours, people!! And pencil crayon. I think when I saw this book it was the first time I realized watercolours could be used in this way. Also it blew my mind. All the detail to sink your teeth into (or your eyes), and all the pattern and all the, well, gorgeousness. My other favourite of his is Mixed Beasts. Needless to say, I am jealous. Published by Kids Can Press.