49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators

At the start of this month I published a list 50+ brilliant picture books with contributions from several illustrators I’m fortunate to have “met” (at least online). The list was intended to be an source of ideas and inspiration.

One interesting aspect for me of that list was how many of the books chosen were published 30, 40 or even 50 years ago. This observation made me want to look for the best picture books of recent years – to find some inspiration amongst the newest, brightest picture books available.

To help me in this quest I turned to this year’s winners of the Booktrust New Best Illustrators Award. These illustrators “represent the best rising talent in the field of illustration today, [they] demonstrate remarkable creative flair, artistic skill and boundless imagination in their work“, so who better to ask for some suggestions as to the best, fresh picture books?

So now, as the month draws to a close I offer you another springboard into a selection of amazing picture books. I hope the list will whet your appetite, stoke your imagination and make you hungry to visit the library. Here’s what our award winning illustrators chose and why they chose it…

Kevin Waldron

  • Un Lion á Paris by Beatrice Alemagna
    Absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful, beautiful art. Why isn’t this book everywhere?

  • The Enemy: A Book about Peace by Davide Cali, illustrated by Serge Bloch
  • I love the invention of Serge Bloch. Well delivered message.

  • My Friends by Tarō Gomi
    Only discovered this artist’s work recently, despite his huge output over so many years. the shapes, the colours, the simplicity, so much fun.

  • Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Delphine Durand
    Eccentric, hilarious.

  • The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
    A breakthrough book for this very talented artist. Brilliant & original.

  • Mr. Big by Ed Vere
    Ed Vere’s characters are great; really like his thick, squiggly black line work.

  • Claudia Boldt

    I chose those books because I absolutely love the illustrations. They are so inspiring and show what amazing picture books have been published in recent years.

  • My House by Delphine Durande
    There is so much happening, it is hard to put into words. It is a trip through a whole different universe with no linear narrative. Lots of small, witty comic strip like illustrations fill the book. It would definitely appeal to lovers of the absurd!

  • The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Laura Carlin

  • Slapsefjell (Slush Mountain) by Bjørn Rune Lie
    Click here to see inside spreads

  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
    The story is simple but the language is absurd and funny and goes so well with the beautiful drawings – I love it!

  • Jour de pêche by Laurent Moreau
    This books has no words! So even though the title is in French everyone can read it! The story follows a man on his bicycle on the way to go fishing. It is a simple story but there is so much detail in the illustrations that it is lots of fun to look at.

  • Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch

  • Il grande Bum-Bum by Gyong-Sook Goh

  • The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers

  • Der weiße und der schwarze Bär by Jürg Schubiger, illustrated by Eva Muggenthaler
    English description available here.

  • Schatten by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Artem
    (Also available in Spanish)

  • Katie Cleminson

    Oh boy, this one was even harder to do! Very, very tough. Of course, I wanted to add all of the Best New Illustrators books in it too, but here goes…

  • Mr Chicken Goes To Paris by Leigh Hobbs.
    This is a bright, fresh book, I love the way Hobbs brings Paris to life. Don’t judge this book by it’s cover, it doesn’t quite do it justice.

  • The Book with A Hole by Herve Tullet.
    This book has a large hole in it, and the reader has to fill in the gap on each page. Think tummy’s, dinner plates, open mouths etc. A great interactive, imaginative book!

  • It’s a Secret by John Burningham.
    Marie-Elaine finds out what her cat Malcolm’s big secret… Love the drawings, J.B is my hero

  • Shadow by Suzy Lee.
    A beautiful clever book, about a little girl’s adventures with transforming shadows. Lee is a master of the wordless picture book.

  • The Fly by Petr Horacek.
    I only saw this book earlier this month, and I loved it. Entertaining, original and bold.

  • The Haunted House by Kazuno Kohara
    A bold book created using only bright orange and black, I love the way Kohara illustrates the floating ghosts.

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
    A beautifully illustrated, imaginative, and well crafted set of short stories.

  • The Pencil written by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman.
    This is my favourite of their collaborations so far, I would’ve loved this story as a child.

  • Dog Love Books by Louise Yates
    Dog is a very likeable character, and this book has some really charming drawings.

  • Also, I must mention Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by Tove Jansson which has just been published in the U.K for the first time (by Tate publishing). The illustrations are stunning, and it’s such a beautiful edition.

    Viviane Schwarz

  • Vern and Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre
    I was more excited about this book coming out than any of the others. This is a collection of all the comic adventures of Vern, a kind and diligent sheep, and Lettuce, a lively rabbit, plus all the other tenants of a busy council estate somewhere in a part of South London populated by talking animals. I already loved every episode I got my hands on before this collection was published – they were featured in the Guardian for a while, and in the DFC magazine (home and springboard for many great children’s comics [but sadly now defunct/Zoe]). Many of my favourite books as a child were collections of magazine comics. There is something very generous about them, they way they build a world which materialises at full blast on page one and then settles into place a little bit more with every story. Reading Vern and Lettuce is like visiting a particularly exciting aunt and uncle. The stories are driven by a tremendous sense of adventure, growing ever larger – from the grand experimental re-styling of Vern’s fleece in the beginning to the triumphant airship ride in the end, when we see the whole world the comic has built up from above. The characters are so loveable and alive that, having read the book, you might find yourself squinting at the real world when you next leave the house and see them walking with you, waiting to see what brilliant thing will happen next.
    Disclosure: yes, I’m friends with Sarah, but the reason I really wanted to become her friend was that I loved this comic, so there you go.

  • The Lying Carpet by David Lucas
    This has more words in than your standard picture book – but I think it fits into this list, because it’s richly illustrated on every page. It’s a beautiful book in every sense – down to the paper stock, the sturdy old-fashioned embossed cover and the smell of the ink. But most importantly It’s beautifully written and illustrated, and with a story that deals with the importance of storytelling itself. It’s full of wonders, and it takes its readers very seriously. The kind of book that you may read as a child and feel like someone actually told you something that you will remember, and that will become part of your life. And, to make the point, it’s got a very important looking tiger skin on every page, keeping his eyes on you as he tells the story.

  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
    I saw an advance copy of this beautiful book at the London Book Fair and made everyone who talked to me read it. The cover in itself is enough to make me happy. A bear wanting his hat back. You can feel how much he wants it. If it were just that picture, I’d draw his hat back on with a Sharpie to see if it made him happy. But it’s a whole book, and every page is as engaging as that. It’s beautifully simple, and satisfying – and honest. It contains a moment of pure red rage, very honestly acknowledges that emotion and so allows discussion of the great needs and wants and disagreements of life. And it’s funny, it’s so funny it makes people shout things while they read it, and other people snort drinks through their nose.

  • Puss and Boots by Ayano Imai
    This book was on my previous list already, but…
    I picked this re-imagined version of Puss in Boots up because it was stunningly beautiful, full of fine detail and expression, a world of perfect moments. It’s delicate. Then I bought it because it’s very, very well crafted. Now I am re-reading it to remind myself how to pace and lay out a classic picture book, and to see the story played out again and again, and bring the giant back to life and have it eaten by the clever cat. That’s one of the signs of a really great picture book, I believe – it does not really end, it will play again every time you open it, and you will wish to make that happen.

  • A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton
    Here’s a book to give to children who are learning English as a second language. You can almost hear the words when you look at the pictures… almost. I don’t quite know what to say about it, that’s how simple it is. A little owl is lost and found, with all the sorrow and joy and hope and confusion that entails put into simple, elegant illustrations. It’s perfect. There.

  • The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, Illustrated by Laura Carlin
    This recent illustrated edition is off to a head start, it being a great classic story. There have been a lot of interpretations, but this is one of the most elaborate I’ve seen, and very beautiful. The images are tactile – paint, collage, crayons, all used in exciting, dynamic ways, sophisticated but engaging. A great book to use if you want to encourage a child to make illustrations, because every picture invites speculations to how it was made and so invites you to make your own.
    The page turns are cleverly used, and there are a few very simple but striking novelty elements – you can reveal the buried giant by unfolding pages, the approach of the dragon is cleverly suggested by a series of holes in the page, showing more and more of the monster, and there is a generous surprise in the end. It feels theatrical, reading it is like watching a private production in a paper theatre, and the use of collage and shadow might inspire you to go and make your own production of your favourite stories. This is exactly the kind of book that I think is being encouraged by the rise of apps and ebooks – something to remind us what paper books can do.

  • Batty by Sarah Dyer
    Making a picture book is a challenge – what can you do with it that only books can do? For one thing, you can turn it upside down.
    Batty is a somewhat grumpy bat, not the favourite animal of the zoo… and when he tries to make friends with the other animals, he runs into all sorts of trouble. While reading this book you will have to turn it around and around to try and follow Batty’s bat-perspective. It will make you slightly dizzy, and it’s a brilliant example of the effort it takes trying to see the world as others do, even if you are very optimistic and determined, and even if everyone is very well-meaning.
    The conclusion is very satisfying (and signposted all along, which you notice on second reading) and it actually made me wish that I had had this book when I was a shy and awkward little child, believing that I was just too weird to be liked – and I was very glad indeed that it doesn’t end with Batty meeting a lady bat who understands him, as most stories of awkward loners seem to go. Have a read and see if you don’t agree: this is a much better ending.

  • Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
    Not a picture book, but only because it has 171 pages. If there were any more pictures in it it might explode.
    Whoah. Ottoline’s life is exciting. She’s the classic children’s book heroine who has absent rich parents, and so all the resources and freedom you could dream of. The only thing as exciting than being Ottoline might be reading the book – because you get all the maps, all the notes, all the postcards, all the shoes, everything annotated. You are invited to witness the whole world of the story, rendered to a degree of detail that would make most illustrators cry, but somehow I imagine Chris Riddell drawing this with a fixed evil genius grin. This book actually rivals animation for richness of content – reading it is like watching a brilliant kids’ movie, except you get to take as much time as you like to explore everything! – There is a whole series of Ottoline books, but this one is my favourite, because it has a yellow cat in it. (The others are good as well.)

  • Joe Berger

  • Leonardo the terrible monster by Mo Willems
    I love the simplicity of this book, and also the unusually tall format. It’s so spare, which makes the page where the boy airs his grievances a real flood. Style-wise it makes me think of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen a bit, and the type on the cover has a vaguely retro-feel, but it doesn’t feel the least bit old-fashioned. It’s a simple idea done really really well.

  • Around the world with Mouk by Marc Boutavant
    No-one could call this ‘spare’! It seems to have been printed in about ten custom inks, and is a total feast for Marc Boutavant fans. Despite the riot of colour and detail on each page, the spreads hang together brilliantly, and there is so much detail! With my design head (and my illustrator’s head!) on, I’m attracted to simplicity, but children absolutely adore very detailed, sharply focussed images full of stuff to get lost in. Again, there’s a hint of homage to children’s books gone by, this time Richard Scarry, but Mouk and friends a very much their own animals. And it’s educational too!

  • Bog Baby written by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Gwen Millward
    I’ve chosen this because it’s a book I can’t read with blubbing. I think that’s such an achievement, to be able to write a story that feels so poignant but isn’t mawkish or sentimental. I heard Jeanne read this at a Puffin picture book event when it was still in production – not a dry eye in the house.

  • The Haunted House by Kazuno Kohara
    I’ve always wanted to do something with a limited palette, and you can’t get much more limited than black and red. But the addition of white tissue-paper ghosts overlaid gives another dimension to this lovely first book by Kazuno Kahara. It takes real confidence by the author and, I expect, the publisher, to do a book like this, and it’s so refreshing. It has a really tactile feel, one which could only be achieved by the hand-crafted method — if these were done digitally it could be very one-note, but the tissue ghosts pick up colour from the bold black woodcuts, and the end result is completely captivating.

  • Peas! written by Andrew Cullen, illustrated by Simon Rickerty
    This story is just great. Actually it’s not a story – it’s a documentary. It’s very clear where the inspiration comes from — every parent struggles to make their children eat peas or other greens, and this is the perfect guilt-trip – showing the peas from birth throughout their short life and long journey to the plate. Their sole wish; to be eaten. And when they’re unceremoniously chucked in the bin, it breaks their little hearts. I love this, and I’m surprised not to have seen it touted about more.

  • I think that, to be a ‘classic’, a picture book has to do something very simple, very well, and the books I’ve chosen all seem to do just that. They’re simple ideas that stick in the head – less is more, as they say (okay this doesn’t apply to the extravaganza that is Around the World with Mouk — the exception that proves the rule).

    Levi Pinfold

  • FArTHER by Grahame Baker-Smith
    I got all choked up reading this. Grahame Baker-Smith has created a bittersweet tale that is both sad and happy at the same time, with marvellously evocative and individual imagery that lets you inhabit the world he is creating. If I was still a kid (and perhaps I still am) this would be my favourite book.

  • The House by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti
    Beautiful. A moving poem told from the perspective of a house coupled with wonderfully immersive illustrations from Roberto Innocenti. His images elegantly capture the passage of time and the course of life: Unusual subject matter for a picture book, but handled so masterfully that I think children would still really get it. I enjoyed spotting the subtle changes of the house as the years roll by. Slowly paced and quietly affecting.

  • Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard
    Gorgeous depictions of tea plantations in India – colour saturated and iridescent oil paintings really bring the story to life. You can almost feel the heat as you are pulled in by beautifully restrained and controlled paintings. It feels like a real treat to hold the book and flick through pages of very considered artwork.

  • Crazy Hair by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman
    Darkness and lightness seem to balance on a knife edge in this one. Wildly creative and funny with illustrations that are likely to both haunt and delight in equal measure. As ever, Dave Mckean manages to capture the surreal in a very individual way – When you have finished the book it seems as if you’ve been dreaming for the last 15 minutes.

  • Tales from outer suburbia by Shaun Tan
    Shaun Tan is an inspiration – his peculiar voice seems to come from somewhere completely exotic but strangely grounded in reality. Every story in this compendium is tackled in a different manner. The marks and image making change from piece to piece, leading to unexpected twists and turns of mood and tone. For me, the greatest pleasure of this book is that upon first read, predicting the nature of the stories is impossible – something unexpected is always around the corner. Despite this strange and fascinating approach, it never goes too far. Shaun Tan has an amazing ability to put in little details here and there that make his surreal narratives very touching and human.

  • Chris Haughton

  • Jo singe garçon by Beatrice Alemagna
    My favourite picture book illustrator. This book is sadly not yet available in english. It has absolutely STUNNING images; the story of a boy who wants to become a monkey.

  • How to heal a broken wing by Bob Graham
    I love the text beneath the story. The images on the TVs and the newspapers are of war. A story about compassion from a real master of picture books.

  • Mr Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo by Kevin Waldron
    Very funny and beautiful illustratrations. Mr Peek is based on John Cleese. It’s the Fawlty Towers of the zoo world!

  • It’s a secret by John Burningham
    Where do cats go at night? And what do they do? Brilliantly written. I wish I had come up with that story…. very funny.

  • Catch that crocodile! by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas
    Hilarious and a lovely moral about persuasion over force. Tara books in India is one of my favourite publishers. Their books are all absolutely stunning and they have a very interesting blog.

  • Sara Ogilvie

    This was much harder than I thought. There will be tons more that I have forgotten but these are the ones that have stuck in my head. So here are my 5 in no particular order:

  • Mr Big by Ed Vere
    I love Ed Vere’s bold, colourful and economical compositions which completely fill the page. Mr Big is a fantastic character. That moody night time neighbourhood spread is great.

  • Lines that Wiggle by Candace Whitman, illustrated by Steve Wilson
    Fresh illustrations exploring the fun of lines in everyday things. The subject is simple but makes great material for a children’s book. A brilliant idea ( that I wish I’d had…) A visual treat.

  • The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman
    The Runaway Dinner is a tough book to follow and then they came up with this. Another totally unique and bonkers storyline.

  • The Garage by Christophe Merlin
    Came across this book recently in a Barcelona bookshop. This author / illustrator divides his time between illustrating and mending old cars. A fine example of someone drawing from experience. His knowledge is executed beautifully and the pop up elements work really well with the subject.

  • Emily Brown and the Thing by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton
    This author and illustrator team work perfectly together.The Emily Brown books are hilarious. I don’t blame Emily Brown for getting narky at the end as the Thing really is quite annoying! I do like him though in a Woody Allen kind of way…

  • A little bit about today’s contributors…

    Kevin Waldron is currently working on his 2nd Mr Peek book. Jules at Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast has a couple of great posts about Kevin and his books here and here. There’s also a brief interview with Kevin over at Hot Cross Mum.

    Viviane Schwarz‘s latest book is A place to call home and is due out on May 5th! Viv bakes brilliant bread and sews great dresses. You can find her on twitter @vivschwarz.

    Claudia Boldt‘s third picture book will be published with Jonathan Cape at Random House in February 2012. It is called Odd Dog and you can have a little sneak view on her website. She’s currently working on two new book ideas, including Apey the (un)luckiest monkey in the world.

    Katie Cleminson‘s latest book, Otto the Book Bear, is due out on July 7th. Bill Murray features (in disguise) in the picture book she’s working on at the moment. You can find her on twitter @katiecleminson.

    Chris Haughton is currently working on a book about a bad dog… called ‘Oh no, George!’. Here’s one of his recent blog posts I (Zoe) think you should read! You can find Chris on twitter @chrishaughton.

    Sara Ogilvie‘s work is “inspired by words, street life, antiquities, posters, old wives tales, household appliances, carpets, masks, trying to spell sounds, packaging, old second-hand bookshops and pedestrian oddballs…“. Her newest book (with Anna Kemp), Rhino’s don’t eat Pancakes is published today!

    Levi Pinfoldplays banjo and guitar when no one else is looking“. You can find him on twitter @LeviPinfold.

    I hope that Joe Berger will continue to whizz about entertaining himself for a very long time to come. He makes me laugh every Saturday without fail. You can find Joe on Twitter @arnodestang.

    Alice Melvin and Salvatore Rubbino also received the Booktrust New Best Illustrators Award, and Susan Steggall was highly commended by the judges.

    *Thankyou* to everyone who contributed to today’s epic post. I’m sure I’m not the only person thrilled and excited but the books highlighted today.

    What are your favourite picture books / illustrated books published in the last couple of years?

    31 Responses

    1. Ali B

      I think Shaun Tan is wonderful. His images are very complex, and he reminds me very much of Tove Jansson in some ways- he’s not afraid to address fear, loneliness and alienation in his books. I’m a big fan of Dave McLean and Neil Gaiman as well- The Wolves In The Wall is wonderful.
      Ali B recently posted..Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr

    2. Library Mice

      Wow, quite a few French books in there *happy dance* and some of my favourites are in there too: anything Oliver Jeffers, Mouk, Haunted House, Dog Loves Books, Ottoline, Mr Peek, Vern & Lettuce. I have just discovered Puss & Boots (reviewing it soon) and it is soooo beautiful! Great, great post Zoe :0)

    3. Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook

      So many beautiful-looking picture books! I would very much like to get my hands on the ones that Claudia Boldt mentioned.

      Some of my recent favourites: Mirror by Jeannie Baker, Follow the Line books by Laura Ljungvist (just published my review at The Book Chook, really hope you’ll find these, Zoe!) and Feathers for Phoebe by Rod Clement. And more diverse illustrations styles you would not find!
      Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook recently posted..Childrens Book Review- Follow the Line Books

    4. Zoe

      Hi Susan, Yes, I too really want to see Mirror, and the Follow the Line books came to mind when I saw Lines that Wiggle one of Sara Ogilvie’s suggestions. All on my library list now!

    5. Fusenews: ‘Arf a mo’! « A Fuse #8 Production

      […] and interesting, it recently posted a fascinating list of recommended picture books.  Called 49 Brilliant Picture Books from the Past 5 Years as Chosen by Award Winning Illustrators, the list comes from the winners of the recent Booktrust New Best Illustrators Award and their […]

    6. Laurina Cashin

      I’ll definitely spend more time with this post. So many book covers intrigued me, delighted me and I want to know more.

      • Zoe

        Thanks Laurina! I hope you have a lovely time reading all about these books – I’ve certainly been delighted and thrilled by what I’ve discovered!

    7. Even in Australia

      This list is amazing. I’m really intrigued by which books were recommended by multiple authors… and which were not. Definitely adding them to my library list! Speaking of library lists, I was so sad to discover the NYPL only has one book of Tim Hopgood’s and it was not one of the ones you recommended. 🙁

    8. Marjorie (PaperTigers)

      Wonderful post – so interesting to read illustrators’ own choices. Some of my favourites are there too – and some new to me, that require investigating post haste!
      Marjorie (PaperTigers) recently posted..May 2011 Events

    9. Zoe

      Thanks Marjorie, yes seeing what illustrators themselves choose is very interesting. I wonder what’s the first book you’re going to track down from this list?

    10. Jean Reidy

      Wow! What a trove. I’m starting a brand new Goodreads folder just for these picture books. Having the illustrator perspective is especially valuable.

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