Tag Archive: children’s classics

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 2

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.


With the release of the new illustrated versions of the Harry Potter series due to be launched only a few months from now, it seemed fitting that Ms Parfitt and I discuss what books we wish were illustrated. As an artist, myself, I often enjoy sketching scenes from the books I have read, and some publications are so full of rich imagery and imagination that it seems almost a crime that they do not contain a single illustration.

So here are the books that get my fingers itching to illustrate:

The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King

I had to list this first, as I just finished the final installment last week and am still adjusting to life without another Dark Tower book to read! Seven books make up the epic tale of Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to find the point where all worlds meet- The Dark Tower. During his journey, he remembers friends of old and meets new friends from other worlds, including our own. The tale stretches across so many different landscapes that beg to be painted. We walk by Roland’s side, watching him encounter creatures like flesh eating Lobstrosities and the evil half-baby half-spider Mordred. Oy is one of my favourite characters, and the one I could sketch for hours. He is a billy-bumbler, described as a cross between a badger, a racoon and a dog. With his “intelligent, gold-ringed eyes” and “surprisingly graceful neck” I can’t help but liken him to my border collie, Simm.



The series has a number of spin-off comics attached to it, thanks to Marvel and King working together, and there has been talk for around eight years now of producing several films and a television series based on the books, but personally I’m a stickler for the original text. If I could spend the next ten years illustrating The Dark Tower series and nothing else, I’d be a very happy bumbler.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

ChocolatSet in a fictional little town in France, ‘Chocolat’ begins as the town’s inhabitants are taking down carnival decorations that marked the beginning of Lent. A mysterious woman and her daughter move into the old bakery opposite the church, and anticipation grows as rumours of her opening a chocolate shop spread.
‘Chocolat’ is a beautiful book, full of delightfully real characters, quaint french settings and, of course, the magical art of the chocolatier. What better way to capture all this than with illustration? The descriptions of Vianne’s edible creations, flamboyant window displays and the sensuous aromas of melted chocolate and spices floating down the street would make fantastic images. Even some portraits or character studies dotted throughout the text would be interesting- accentuating the rivalry between Vianne’s unorthodox ways and the parish curé’s disapproval. I wonder if perhaps the addition of illustrations would bring this much-loved book to a willing younger audience too. Because who doesn’t love chocolate!?

Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin

I don’t often read books based on historical conjecture, but ‘Will and Tom’ captivated me within the first chapter and I had to continue. The story covers a week in 1797, West Yorkshire, when budding but rather introverted artist Will Turner (J.M.W. Turner, to us) is commissioned to sketch Harewood House. There, he unexpectedly comes face to face with his charismatic childhood friend and rival artist, Tom Girtin. In the next week, their complicated relationship in exacerbated by their aristocratic surrounding, of which Tom fits into seamlessly, while Will is constantly mocked and ridiculed.


Woven throughout all of the drama are passages describing the acts of putting pencil to paper, the colours Will imagines he would use to paint the night sky or a passing scene which captures his imagination. The artist in me desperately wants to see these sketches within the pages as I read. As a point of reference as well as a fictional aid to make the story more real. It is only a possibility that Turner and Girtin really met at Harewood House, though it is true they were taking similar tours of the north at that time, so their paths may well have crossed. What is interesting, however, is the art that is referred to. The sketches Will took of the house and the surrounding estate are very real. So why aren’t they printed with the text!? No doubt its something to do with complicated permissions and copyright procedures, but this book positively yearns for a few Turner sketches in the least, not to mention some images from Girtin’s “Eidometropolis”, his 18ft by 108ft 360 degrees panorama of London which he exhibited in 1802, only a few months before his early death.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In a similar vein to ‘Will and Tom’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is threaded with beautiful imagery of Clare’s art, from her therapeutic paper making, to the intriguing sculptures she creates. Niffenegger herself is an artist and paper maker. Her understanding of the processes really gives life to her descriptions. Perhaps, if she illustrated the book herself, she could release it as a deluxe edition.



Though, of course, this book is a complete work of fiction, the artwork described feels real. Interestingly, the far-fetched idea of a man plagued with a time-traveling-related genetic disorder is also made fantastically realistic. We watch from Clare’s perspective as she meets the love of her life when he appears out of thin air in the gardens of her family home when she is just a child. At this point, he is from the future. Later, she meets him in the present when their ages are the same. This is the first meeting for Henry, who is still yet to time travel into Clare’s past. Its confusing to explain, but fantastically easy to read and comprehend in the book. Throughout, Clare’s artwork is a metaphor for her relationship with Henry- she creates birds and wings and things that feel insubstantial or fleeting, as hard to capture as Henry’s illness. Niffenegger‘s vivid imagery paints each scene with all the clarity she uses to convey Clare’s artistic process. The whole book is like a grown-up fairytale. And what fairytale doesn’t suit illustration?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Last but not least is the book that started this two-parter blog between myself and Georgina Parfitt. We were discussing the possibility of writing a review of the new television adaption of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ but the talk quickly moved to imagery and illustration. Arguably, I shouldn’t be mentioning this book, as it is already illustrated- a fact of which I was not aware until writing this blog, as I listened to the audiobook version and have never seen the physical publication. I’m thrilled to hear one of the books on my list is actually illustrated! And no book is more suited to it than this.



Clarke’s beast of a novel is set in 19th Century England, during the Napoleonic Wars. Magic, which once thrived in England, is returning in the arms of two magicians- the stuffy and reclusive Gilbert Norrell, and the imaginative and charismatic Jonathan Strange.

As with ‘The Dark Tower’ I think this kind of other-worldly magic cries out to be drawn. The realms of fairy, the castle of Lost Hope, the gentleman with the thistledown hair. Clarke’s writing is Dickens-like, each scene creating a wonderfully clear tableau in the mind of the reader. Her characters, of which there are many, are all fantastic individuals, each with their own secrets and motives. The gothic settings in Yorkshire almost feel as remote and mysterious as the fairy world Jonathan Strange discovers he can travel to through mirrors, and the Raven King would be a marvellous subject for a wood engraving, surrounded by thorns and celtic knots.

The artist lucky enough to have been given the task of illustrating Clarke’s novel is Portia Rosenberg. And she doesn’t disappoint. Rosenberg, who has also illustrated Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Black Tulip’, has captured ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ in 28 wonderful yet understated drawings that have the quality of old fashioned woodcarvings or etchings akin to those plates in Dickens novels. Faced with so many details and descriptions, instead of being overwhelmed and trying to fit everything in, Rosenberg hasn’t fallen into that trap, instead leaving her illustrations  uncluttered, but with enough life in them to inspire the reader to create more complex images in their imaginations. The only thing I can fault is that 28 drawings is not nearly enough to capture all of the incredible imagery in the book! But maybe I’m just being greedy.

I could go on with this list of books that should be illustrated for at least another two parts. My note book page for this article is covered in titles that I’ve not yet mentioned! Other tales of magic like Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, epic classics like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas and the dystopian worlds of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ and James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’. But I’ve share my opinion, and we here at Towerbabel want to know what yours is. What do you think about illustrated books? Which books do you think would be improved with some images? Tell us what you think on Twitter and here on the Forums page.

Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite illustrated books- and they’re not just for kids. See you then.

5 Children’s Books You Should Keep on your Writing Desk to Help you Through January


While writing, even though many of us are connected to online communities, we tend to operate in silos of genre and audience that keep us from discovering different voices. But exposing ourselves to other disciplines, especially in the often isolating month of January, can give fresh fuel to our writing tasks.

Reading and rereading children’s books can not only give you a happier, simpler mindset when writing, it can clarify your plotting, reminding you that simple twists and turns can be best, as can repetition, reading aloud, and remembering to take pleasure in your characters and settings rather than indulging in the more melancholy or dramatic elements.

So in the interests of positive, simple writing, here are my picks for five children’s books to keep on your desk, at least while the wintery weather holds out, and why:

1. The Little Prince

This little classic of French literature by Antoine de Saint Exupery is an adventure of language and imagination, following our narrator’s recounting of his life-changing friendship with a little man, a prince, who has come from another planet. The world of this extraordinary friendship is so delightful to both children and adults because it is uninhibited by the ordinary rules of life, revelling in absurd new meanings in everyday objects. Keeping this one on your desk in times of trouble will help you stay imaginative and uninhibited in your own writing.

2. Charlotte’s Web

With an emotional impact that rivals most “grown-up” novels, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White shows that the most important element to creating compelling drama is characters who care about each other. Whether your characters are spiders, pigs, or, for some reason, humans, keeping Charlotte’s Web on your desk is a great way to learn the lesson that danger plus love equals high stakes and a gripping story.

3. Horton and the Kwuggerbug

This is the latest collection of stories from Dr. Suess, discovered and published posthumously. Filled with characteristic rhymes and kooky characters, this set of new discoveries is inspiring because it gives readers the sense that Suess’ world extends way beyond the Cat in the Hat and might actually be around forever. Keep this one on your desk to remind you to follow your own voice and sense of humor, even when your editor tells you to start being sensible.

4. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

The perfect tale to read as a mantra for simple and effective storytelling. Bear Hunt is a firm favorite of children and their adults because each page is a step on a journey, offering both suspense and a new, fun sensation – the swishy-swashy grass, the squelchy mud – what better way to remind yourself to keep your narrative journey moving?

5. The Adventures of Curious George

This one’s mostly on the list because its editions are always printed in such beautiful sunny colors. Just the sight of this book on your desk every morning will lift your writing spirits and encourage you to face the day with curiosity.

If you have any reading recommendations for simplifying plot or bringing a little joy to the writing process, share them with us!

Image: ”Littleprince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944) via Wikipedia

Book Benches in London Show Us How We Consider Our Modern Classics

Bench designed by Thomas Dowdeswell inspired 1984 by George Orwell

Bench designed by Thomas Dowdeswell inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Unveiled this week in the city of London is Books About Town, a sculpture trail of benches designed by artists that capture important works of literature with a London connection. The benches are designed as huge bent-over books, and on the exposed pages are pictures based on 50 works of literature that the artists hope will get London’s locals and visitors talking.

For the city, the trail is a colorful celebration of its literary history and an addition to its summer line-up of culture, but it’s also telling of what makes a “classic.” Some of the works represented are entirely expected, like Peter Pan, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Great Expectations, Alice in Wonderland, and then there are others that have yet to become definite members of the literary canon. The trail then gives us a picture of what the classic list will look like to the next generation of readers.

Bench designed by Lauren Child, original illustrator of Clarice Bean

Bench designed by Lauren Child, original illustrator of Clarice Bean

One of the new favorites that made the cut is Clarice Bean, a heroine of children’s picture books, with such titles as “What Planet Are You From?” and “My Uncle is a Hunkle” comprising her career so far. Another protagonist that seems to have settled into the classics list is Alex Rider, the creation of Anthony Horowitz, and unsurprisingly family favorite We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen has also made it.

The trail also illuminates how much clearer the choice of children’s classics is now than adult classics. The past adult voices, Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, are there, too old and important to be erased or forgotten for a moment in a conversation of classics. But newer adult voices are more difficult to pin down and assess in terms of “importance.”

Brick Lane by Monica Ali is one of the adult books that has come to define a literary moment in London and is as such confirmed as a classic – we’re comfortable using the term to describe it – and it belongs in this trail. But I get the feeling we’re still making up our minds about the rest. White Teeth by Zadie Smith will surely make it. And there are plenty of New York novels written in the last fifty years that would make a New York trail. But for London, the next literary moment is scattered and undecided.

What do you think should make it into our classics list of the future? As the way we read and share changes, do you think the way we judge importance in literature also changes?

And if you’re interested in how literature and place interact, you might also enjoy our post on Boston’s literary district.

Children’s Illustrated Classics at the British Library this week

Following last week’s blog about the Art Nouveau illustrations of The Hobbit, I was drawn to the British Library, which has been exhibiting a history of children’s classic illustrations for the last few months, including Tolkien’s iconic Hobbit watercolors.

The exhibition is filled with the colorful scenes and characters from ten of the most game-changing children’s books of the 20th Century, including Paddington Bear, The Wind in the Willows, Just-So Stories and The Iron Man. These ten texts go hand-in-hand with their illustrators. Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman and Rudyard Kipling himself are just a few of the artists on show, whose work has defined the childhood literature of many generations.

I got to thinking how effective these illustrations that we count amongst the classics have been in ensuring the long life of their stories.

F.D. Bedford's original illustration of Peter Pan in Peter and Wendy, 1911

F.D. Bedford’s original illustration of Peter Pan in Peter and Wendy, 1911

Some of the most vivid examples are the magical adventure tales, like those of Peter Pan, which have inspired countless reproductions in the form of blockbuster movies, cartoons and spin-off tales.

Roald Dahl’s disturbing and humorous tales made another important contribution to the illustrated childhood, brought to life by Quentin Blake’s sketchy cartoons. These pictures, which first enlivened the pages of Dahl’s story books, are now famous in their own right, inspiring a line of gift cards and other merchandise beyond the animated, staged and filmed versions of the original tales, which have given stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda an unstoppable legacy.

Willy Wonka by Quentin Blake

It seems that the pictures, with their recognizable blend of quirky, sometimes disturbing, but overridingly charming style, have contributed a lot to the sustained success of the words they accompany. Who knows where these books would be if they hadn’t been originally brought to life so memorably.

With only a few more days to go, get down to the British Library if you’re in London this weekend, to catch this nostalgic exhibition. Visit the British Library website for more details.

Rudyard Kipling drew the illustrations for his Just-So Stories

Rudyard Kipling drew his own illustrations for Just-So Stories