Attempting to yap about picture books

I’ve been trying to think of ways to talk about picture books.

But picture books are hard to talk about. They have pictures that do so much of the work – images that invite you into the land of the visual and leave you somewhat unable to explain them and their appeal with just words.

(I did think about pictures, but I cannot draw. I draw stick figures and small children laugh at them. I’ll stick to the words.)

It might be just me. Other people seem to find it manageable to talk expertly about the picture-y bits.


I was sick recently, with that winterish blaaaaargh thing that kicks in around this time of year. So I went reading and rereading picture books, which were less intimidating than big blocks of text.

And then it occurred to me that I rarely do picture-book yap here, so here’s… some making up for that.

One of my all-time favourites is The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler). A little mouse goes walking in the woods, facing scary creatures. Lovely rhymes, and a delightful ending. Room on the Broom, by the same pair, is also terrific.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (Michael Rosen) has those fabulous scratchy Quentin Blake illustrations and is about being sad – it starts off being about the specific grief of losing someone (in Rosen’s case, his son) but expands into sadness more generally. Very moving, gets you right in the gut.

Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree is gorgeous. The text is very straightforward; the images take it all to a completely different, vivid, slightly mad level. (This is also the sort of book that rewards careful rereading and re-looking.)

The Sesame Street book The Monster at the End of This Book is just delightful.

Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon is a classic and very very sweet – Harold draws a road with his purple crayon and goes on a variety of adventures.

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is one I like but am not sure I love – I find it very sad, more so than inspirational.

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s There is very, very pretty and lovely. What is ‘there’ like and how will you know it?

And on a related note – Dr Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a long-time favourite of mine. Very charming rhymes, wise advice, and a dash of lunacy.

Oliver Jeffers’s The Heart and the Bottle is probably the picture book I have recommended most to people who don’t ‘do’ picture books. It will almost certainly make you cry. Stuck, however, will make you laugh. A lot. And The Incredible Book-Eating Boy is very very pretty.

Carol Ann Duffy’s The Lost Happy Endings is gorgeous – good for slightly older picture-book readers (the language is a bit more complex than many of the others mentioned here) and for anyone who likes fairytales and storytelling. My favourite illustration is the one where the sack of happy endings is shook out into the air, with golden happily-ever-after sentences dancing down the page. So pretty!