Scribbly’s Top 5 Illustrated Books

Last week, Georgina and I discussed some of the books we think should be illustrated. During my research for that article, I realised that one of the books on my list, ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’, which I had only listened to on audio and never seen, was actually illustrated already! This leads on nicely to my topic this week.

As an illustrator myself, I like to have a collection of images and inspirational books around me to aid me in coming up with new ideas. When it comes to working with images and my creative writing, I like to look at fiction books for both children and adults to see how they use illustration to enhance the text. In recent years, with the gradual acceptance of graphic novels as a legitimate reading source, I think the way illustration is used in other books is beginning to become more dynamic. Here are a few of my favourite illustrated books:

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.


A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay

Conor is a thirteen-year-old boy who is struggling to deal with his mother’s cancer. His father is absent and he is bullied at school. After many recurring nightmares, one night he wakes to find a monster in his room- apparently the personification of the yew tree he can see out of his bedroom window. Each time the monster (played by Liam Neeson in the film version, due to be released in late 2016) visits to tell Conor its stories, the consequences of their meetings escalate…

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking ‘A Monster Calls’ for a graphic novel. Jim Kay’s stark black and white illustrations are not for your run of the mill children’s book. Kay, of course, is currently gaining a large amount of publicity in the industry for his work on the soon-to-be-released illustrated editions of the Harry Potter series. His work in ‘A Monster Calls’ is a far cry from the bright and optimistic magical illustrations already released for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ (release date 6th October 2015). In Ness’s book, Kay uses a mix of paint, blown ink, possibly charcoal and a whole range of other materials to create texture and moods. Such dark images show great potential for what his illustrations for the later Harry Potter books could be like as the series grows darker and more adult.

Monster spread

‘A Monster Calls’ is an award winning children’s book, but it deals with some very complex adult issues. Illness, death, the complexities of being human.

The illustrations themselves are like a living entity. They set the pace of the narrative, surging forward with the action and ebbing away during the calmer periods. They interact directly with the text, sometimes pushing the writing to one side or the other, widening the margins and spreading across them like weeds in the crack of a garden wall. The complexity of some of the images makes them worthy of being put on the wall. This book is as delightful as it is dark.

by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

‘Tinder’ is another book aimed at children that resonates adult themes. Gardner was inspired by ‘The Tinderbox’, a story by Hans Christian Anderson. She wanted to retell the tale in an historical context, settling for the time of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) after having a conversation with soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, who were struggling to settle into civilian life. The resulting tale was ‘Tinder’, which tells of a young soldier, Otto Hundebis, and his encounters with a shaman, werewolves, a beautiful girl, an evil Prince, and Death himself. Otto comes across a tinderbox and, though he throws it away repeatedly, the little box keeps finding its way back to him. With it comes the power to summon three great werewolves. But there is always a price to be paid for such power.

Gardner’s twisting, tangled tale of suffering, adventure and magic is spellbinding. What makes it even more special are David Roberts’s fantastical illustrations. As with ‘A Monster Calls’ the text and illustration grow together on the page, each supporting the other. Primarily black and white, Roberts accentuates the elements of gore in the book with the occasional slash of bright red, sometimes on a girl’s cape or inside the mouth of a salivating wolf.

Tinder spreads

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
written and illustrated by Brian Selznick

This book really is something special. Part written word, part picture book, Hugo is a hybrid of the best kind.

Hugo spreadsHugo is an orphan, twelve years old and living secretly in the walls of a Parisian train station. Using his dead father’s notes, Hugo is trying to fix a mechanical man who he hopes will, when fixed, write a message from his father. When he gets caught stealing parts from a toy shop at the station and he meets an eccentric girl, everything starts to change.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” Brain Selznick

Selznick’s book is just over 530 pages long and boasts almost 300 drawings. Whether written or illustrated, each page is bordered in black, resonant of old silent films- a topic which is key to the plot. The black borders tie together the illustrations and the text, as there is no overlapping of the two. In other publications, when images are used as very static plates, maybe at the beginning of chapters, the lack of communication between the words and images is frustrating. But Selznick’s drawings are nothing at all like this. He uses them like stills from a movie, played sequentially to build up a story. The result is that you have to read the illustrations as well as the text in order to grasp a full understanding of the story.

The Edge Chronicles
by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell



The Edge Chronicles is a series of fantasy novels for children, comprised of four trilogies, each centred around one character, and four stand alone books, as well as other publications that link to The Edge world.

Between them, Stewart and Riddell have bought the world of The Edge to life. Riddell’s illustrations have inspired me for over ten years as the accuracy with which he draws completely fictional creatures is so prices its as if they’re posing in front of him. Paired with Stewart’s knack for adventure, this series is the kind of thing you hope your kids will love, as it will give you an excuse to read them too!



As with ‘Tinder’, Riddell’s images sit snugly on the pages, enveloped by Stewart’s words, or enveloping them. Such illustrations are also a useful point of reference- Riddell has meticulously mapped out The Edge, as well as detailing a number of wacky creatures it would be a challenge to imagine a clear image of going by words alone.



The Child Thief
written and illustrated by Brom

This is a dark tale, not for the fainthearted. In ‘The Child Thief’ Brom re-imagines the boy who will never grow up. Peter is a boy raised by wolves. He is charismatic and brave, and after saving Nick’s life in New York City, he wants the kid to follow him back to his land. But its not Neverland. Peter’s magical world, Avalon, is dying. He wants Nick to join his band of soldiers- all abused, lost or runaway children- and to train to become a bloodthirsty warrior, fit to defend Avalon.

The Child Thiefjpg

Child TheifI love this book. Its been a favourite of mine for many years. Its a sour twist on a tale that already had debatably dark undertones. Brom writes like he draws- with fine details and a wicked imagination. ‘The Child Thief’ is peppered with his illustrations. Unlike the other books I’ve listed today, the placing of his images is more old-fashioned. There is a full page black and white drawing at the beginning of each chapter, and eight full colour plates in the centre of the book, depicting eight of the main characters. It is interesting that Brom would chose such a traditional way of displaying his images in a book that is essentially very modern. The juxtaposition actually makes it work in a way, though I feel the plates, instead of being grouped together, would work better spread throughout the book, presenting each character as we meet them. The chapter illustrations I can’t fault. They act as little teasers for what is to come, enticing you to read on.
Child Thief spread
Admittedly, I do not like the cover design at all. It feels too far removed from the artwork inside and the cropping of the central image doesn’t make for a very dramatic illustration. Or maybe I’m being picky.

To see more of the artwork from ‘The Child Theif’, visit Brom’s website.

Next week: As an illustrator, I do often work in the realms of fantasy and make believe. But thats not to say I only read books set in fairy lands with imaginary monsters and pretend suppers. It just so happens that these are the books that are illustrated the most. This is why I’ve set myself the task of finding out more about books that are illustrated, but that aren’t in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Next week I’ll be introducing you to an unusual book I’ve been reading of late. Its an interacting story for adults and, personally, I think it’s the future of books.

Georgina Parfitt

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