Children Book Reviews: Beautiful Stories with Beautiful Art

Some children books are beautiful because of their illustrations and some have beautiful stories. These children book reviews look at books with both.

I have so much appreciation for children books that exhibit illustrations that are worth looking at in their own right. It almost makes you want to say that the art is wasted on a child’s book, until you realize that this is exactly where art should be displayed.

I really enjoy a beautiful story as long as it isn’t melodramatic or obviously indulgent on the authors part. As much as I enjoy them, it has to be in moderation. I can only read one of these stories a night – because I tend to prefer the pure fun books!

These children book reviews are roughly in order of our favourites.

Wave (Suzy Lee)

Oh my. This book is so simple looking that it may be easy to pass over the first time. Then you “read” (it’s wordless) it once and then again and then it dawns on you that this book is not simple, it’s magnificently complex and very concise. Suzy Lee doesn’t seem to waste a single stroke of her pencil. The little girl at the sea side has so much emotion and movement that you start to forget that she is sketched. The story is amazing as well, and with the clear emotions of the girl, the waves, her mother, and the seagulls, there’s lots of story packed into this wordless book.

Hello, Harvest Moon (Ralph Fletcher)

This book was illustrated by Kate Kiesler. The paintings that cover the pages are so beautiful and capture the stories setting so well, that it made me jealous for childhood memories on a farm (and almost regret that my children would have city-based memories like me!) The book definitely captures a child-like fantasy of getting out of bed late when no ones around and seeing the world in the moonlight. The text is not overshadowed by the illustrations – the paragraph per page narrative has a dreamy quality of its own. Lots of nocturnal animals and night sky to talk about. This is a great book.

The Lost Lake (Allen Say)

The illustrations in this book would not be as appealing to me without the story, and the story would not be as lovely without the illustrations. Luckily, they are together and they compliment each other so well that they make the other shine. This story is about a boy’s relationship with his real-life father, not an ideal one. He’s flawed, but not in a mellow-dramatic way, just in a normal way. It’s a metaphorical and actual journey, but it doesn’t cross the line into beating you over the head with the metaphor. I’m always on the look out for books that normalize real-life and this is one of them. The story isn’t about the fact that the boy’s parents are separate, but it’s a prominent feature in the story.

The Whale’s Song (Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe)

The illustrations in this book are fantastic. Living in the Rainy City I was able to see unexpected whale shows a couple of times and I think this book captures the magic of it. The story is good. I like that it doesn’t situate itself too firmly – the girl could be visiting her grandmother, or she could live with her. There is also a grumpy uncle set on squashing fantasy with the reality of whales and whaling. While this verges on the border of being a bit too predictable and dramatic, it’s forgivable.

First Ballet (Deanna Caswell)

A lovely rhyming book about a trip to see the nutcracker. The short verse capture the excitment and the pictures have a magical quality that I think reflects the Goose’s enchantment with ballet.

Over at the Castle (Boni Ashburn)

This book blew my mind. I picked it out at the library because the Goose likes dragons. It’s about a pair of dragons waiting to attack a castle, but it is also a fantastic counting book. Although the simple “1 dragon” kind of books have their place, this one incorporates counting into the beautiful verse in a really unique way.

Where oh Where is Santa Claus (Lisa Wheeler)

Not a typical Santa story, this book has beautiful words and beautiful images. Santa is missing and the forest creatures join the search one by one until he is found feet up in a snow bank. There isn’t any preaching about christmas or santa-like indoctrination so it’s a very every-family friendly book.


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