Top Ten Tuesday: books with pictures

Top Ten Tuesday bannerTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. Last week I focused on cover art; this week we’re all talking about books that have pictures on the inside…

If I had to do comics or graphic novels, this would be a very short list at they’ve never really been my thing. But with the latitude granted by ‘picture books’, I’m going to spend a second week in a row enthusing about art. I do have some honest-to-goodness art books (most notably a glorious tome on HR Giger), but I’m going to focus on illustrated stories – and not all of them are for children.

Wombat - ink line drawing by Ralph Thompson for The Silver Brumby

The Silver Brumby – Elyne Mitchell | Artist: Ralph Thompson

Okay, I loved this book because it had the most beautiful horse in the world on the cover, and I was captivated by his adventures inside. But my copy also featured gorgeous line drawings of other Australian flora and fauna, which I still adore.

Finn Family Moomintroll have an unexpected visitor (illustration by Tove Janssen)

Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson (author & artist)

I… don’t really have to explain this, do I? Moomins are amongst the most adorable creatures ever drawn. THOSE EYES. Did you know Tove Jansson once illustrated The Hobbit, which is a thing I must one day lay eyes on. Can you imagine?

R Dragon looks at a bashful Susan

Green Smoke – Rosemary Manning | Artist: Constance Marshall

Green Smoke is the tale of a girl who befriends a Cornish dragon and feeds him sticky buns in exchange for stories (and occasional flights). Marshall’s illustrations achieve peak charm, not least because R Dragon cannot hide his glee in any of them (whereas in the prose he often masks it with grump).

Two illustrated boys stare at two real goldfish

The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish – Neil Gaiman | Artist: Dave McKean

With a title like this, I was always going to have to read this book – and it introduced me to the art of Dave McKean, one of Gaiman’s regular collaborators (they would go on to make the visually spectacular fairy tale Mirrormask). I love the composite of illustration, murky tints and photography.

An illustration of a lamp post in a snow-laden forest

The Chronicles of Narnia – C S Lewis | Artist: Pauline Baynes

Pauline Baynes’s artwork is iconic, and holds a special place in my heart because it got in my eyes so young. I can’t objectively claim to love it as art, but I love it as a lifelong friend (possibly more than I love the books themselves). Also, she gave us the visual of the lamp post.

The prow of a ship stands proud of a calm sea under a full moon

Tales by Trees: The Seafarer – Iiro Küttner | Artist: Ville Tietäväinen

Half the joy in these tree-told adult fairy tales are the gorgeous paintings. Some are tiny details – footsteps in the sand, a bird in flight – others capture little moments. The colour and texture alone break my heart.

Alan Lee paintings of Gildor and the Elves talking to Frodo

The Lord of the Rings – J R R Tolkien | Artist: Alan Lee

Speaking of hearts, Alan Lee stole mine with his illustrations for the anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings. The characters are luminous, faces glowing; the architecture and trees tower at an almost inhuman scale (only The Last Homely House and the hobbit holes are cosy, appropriately). So much beauty.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer?


The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman – Raymond Briggs (author & arti

Briggs’s lesser-known anti-war book – a satire of the Falklands – starts off with lurid, outrageous comic sketches – moustachioes, twirling eyes, breast cannon – in bright, bold colours. And then it changes. In exquisitely shaded pencil drawings, the horror of war is spelled out. It’s powerful stuff, and has had my respect since I was much too young to be reading it.

A Fairy Godmother in shades of purple, a horned moon on her brow and an apple and a crystal ball in her hands

Good Faeries, Bad Faeries – Brian Froud (artist) & Terri Windling (editor)

Who doesn’t love a book you can read back to front? I adored Lady Cottington for Froud’s faerie artwork, but here it gets centre stage without a dubious storyline to distract from it. The graceful and the gawky, the cheeky sprite and the faerie queen – this is a book to get lost in for hours. Brian Froud’s faerie and goblin artwork never fails to entrance and amuse me.


Honourable mention goes to the few comic strip collections I own and adore: The Order of the Stick (sat cheerfully alongside XKCD to prove that stick figures have all the dimensions they need), User Friendly (DUST PUPPY), and – of course – Calvin and Hobbes. 


What fabulous illustrated books do you love?